The legends of the most beloved square by the Romans: Piazza Navona, masterpiece of art and culture
Piazza Navona is one of the most famous squares in Rome for its typical Baroque style, which has always been considered to be a historically more "cheerful" place of the capital. Rich in works of art, it can be defined the most beloved square by the Romans, where history is intertwined with numerous legends, between irony and popular belief.
The history of Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona is located around 85 A.D. The stadium of Domitian, an emperor who loves athletics, who wanted this building to watch the typical Greek games. The latter were not much appreciated by the Romans, perhaps for the skimpy clothing also of the women who participated.
The remains of the Stadio di Domitian, located about 10 m below the current street level, can be seen just before accessing the square, on via Zanardelli.
From the view you can admire one of the many arches that characterize the stadium, developed on 2 orders, with travertine columns. To visit what remains of this imposing building, you can access the excavations that are under the current buildings and are of a surprising charm.
The presence of the Stadio di Domitian dominated for many centuries the activities of what is now a square. From archaeological research it was discovered that it had an elongated shape, just like today's site, with a curved side, but that there was no central dividing wall, as in the Circus Maximus, where instead the races were held with horses and chariot. The horse races in the square were only held in the 1800s and were similar to that of the "Barberi" on Via del Corso during the Middle Ages, but with which they had nothing in common historically.
It was calculated that the stadium could hold about 30 thousand spectators and that its length was 276 meters in front of a width of 106.
The name of the square comes from the word "agones", that is "games", in reference to those that were held in the stadium.
Over time, the theme has been modified to take the name "Navona". We have news of the presence of the stadium still until the year 1000, when the surrounding terrain was characterized by alternating countryside with small houses, and with the first plant of the Church of St. Agnes (today in Agone).
Piazza Navona, the popes and the Pamphilj family
A first arrangement of the square was given by Pope Gregory XIII, who was the first to bring water to drink the horses, building a typical rectangular bathtub in the centre. He then demolished it to build 3 fountains in the second half of the 500.
Piazza "in Agone" began to be the centre of the recurrences and of the city festivals, first of all the Christian ones, with the procession of the Easter day that seems to have Spanish origins.
The festivities of the carnival were very much felt in Rome and were protracted until May, gathering people even from the most distant quarters.
The Pamphilj family took literally possession of the square with the arrival at the pontifical threshold of Giovan Battista, who became Innocenzio X.
The first of the works that he realized, still visible, is the Palazzo Pamphilj, now home to the Embassy of Brazil. A historic figure of the papal family is linked to this building. It is Donna Olimpia Maidalchini in Pamphilj, as she had married the brother of the Pope, of whom she remained a widow.
She was a woman, decided and determined to complete her projects, particularly on this square, in which she concentrated all her architectural ambitions, relying on 2 giants of the Art of the time: Bernini and Borromini.
The 2, narrates the legend, soon ended up letting go to an unhealthy antagonism, culminating in the realization of some works still present in the square, where they mocked each other but which has no historical foundation.
One of these legends is linked to the fountain of the 4 rivers, designed and built by Bernini. The 4 rivers represented and that were those known at the time, that is the Nile (depicted by a blindfolded stature), the Rio Della Plata, the Ganges and the Danube, in a universal conception that embraced the world.
Bernini was notoriously linked to the predecessor of Innocenzio X and was not pleasing to the pope. The diligent sister-in-law, who exerted on him a heavy ascending, made sure that the artist would enter anyway in the graces of the pontiff. The story in this case is true and says that Bernini made a gift to Donna Olimpia a model of the fountain in silver and that it put it in beautiful view, so that it was admired by the pope. The same was struck and could only give the artist a job.
The fountain that was built and located in front of the Basilica of St. Agnes in Agone, the latter designed by Borromini, it has 2 statues in suspicious "attitudes": one has a hand raised in the act of protecting itself (the Rio della Plata), as if the basilica was at risk of collapse, and blindfolded is as if it did not want to see the work realized by the rival. In fact the basilica was built after the realization of the fountain and the blindfolded statue of the Nile is such because it was not known at that time where the river was born.
The central fountain was commissioned by the Pope in 1647 and the water that still feeds it today is the same as the Fontana di Trevi, directly from the spring of the Virgin water. The obelisk at the centre that rises for more than 20 meters belonged to Domitian and arrives from the thermal baths.
The legend linked to St. Agnes in Agone
The Basilica of St. Agnes in Agone was designed by Borromini, who realized the characteristic concave façade, to emphasize the other architectural elements such as the cupola and the 2 lateral towers.
It seems that the same basilica began in the 1652 and ended in 1672, where the martyrdom of the saint took place, and where one of the many ' who were present in Rome at that time was found.
Agnes was attacked and the man who attempted to rape her died before she was able to succeed.
It seems that after stripping her, the girl's hair suddenly grew to cover her and despite being put at the stake, her prayers succeeded in letting her escape from the flames.
His martyrdom came with a killing that is typical of lambs, that is, with a stabbing in his throat.
Inside the basilica, which in the projects of Pope Innocent X was to be a sort of family chapel, lies his monumental tomb placed in the crypt. Behind the main altar, above the entrance, there is also a bust of the Pope little "considered" because it is hidden and it seems that it blesses those who address him exceptionally attention.
The basilica also preserves a relic that is the head of St. Agnes, translated in 1908 by order of Pius X.
The baths in Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona today has a convex shape, where it is impossible to imagine that once it could turn into a swimming pool where nobles and people sollazzavano, especially during the warm Roman summers.
The square, after the arrangement of the 3 fountains, including the Moor and Neptune, was concave in the center.
The idea of turning it into a swimming pool was once again of Donna Olimpia and his brother-in-law, who inaugurated the square with a big party in June of 1652.
The drains of the fountains were capped and it was left that the water would go up to fill the square in about 2 hours. In this "town" swimming pool the Romans were refreshed every Saturday and Sunday of the summer months. The nobles loved to cross it with their chariots and soon became a pleasant tradition to swim in the "lake" of Piazza Navona.
After about 214 years Pope Pius IX categorically forbade this playful refreshment, citing hygiene reasons. Since then the square was never flooded again, even though its vocation to fun never came less.
Christmas holidays in Piazza Navona
If you want to see Piazza Navona decorated, with a Christmas market that lasts about 15 days, you must visit it under the Christmas period.
It is a fixed appointment of the Romans, especially for the feast of the Epiphany, where children can see the epiphany that bears their gifts. The stalls are full of treats, toys, gadgets and a party and bold atmosphere that involves everyone.
Art in Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona is a masterpiece of art and culture and it is not by chance that there are some of the most beautiful buildings in the capital, which belong to the Baroque and Renaissance period.
Among them there is Palazzo Braschi of ' 700, Palazzo Tuccimeni of ' 500, which arose after the demolition of some old buildings, and the same Palazzo Pamphilj.
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