We wandered over to Piazza Navona mainly because I wanted to see Bernini’s famous Four Rivers fountain. What we found was a neat piazza that, while it recognizes the many tourists that come here, it still seemed to have a local feel to it.
Piazza Navona is big – or rather I should say long. It gets it shape from the ancient stadium that was built by Domitian in the 1st century. Over the years, various popes have added to the surrounding area, but the general shape remains the same. In fact, you can see the footprint of the ancient stadium’s northern curve under the modern buildings of the next piazza to the north of Navona – the Piazza Tor Sanguigna. While the piazza is set on an ancient site, the redesign of the piazza into a local community spot didn’t occur until the 1600s when Pope Innocent X decided to fix up the piazza that was home to his family palazzo.
The Piazza Navona is famous for Bernini’s fountain, which sits in the center of the long plaza (see my separate Fountain of the Four Rivers tip about this fountain) and its obelisk for which the fountain was built around. At either end of the piazza are two additional fountains, each attracting tourists as they sit along the edges and enjoy a pleasant care-free moment.
At the northern end of the piazza is the Fontana di Nattuno, which depicts Neptune fighting with some sort of sea monster or giant squid like thing. This fountain is more recent, being built in the late 1800s.
At the southern end of the piazza is the Fontana del Moro, built in 1576, although what you see today are replicas with the originals on display at the Villa Borghese. The main focus of this fountain is the Moor standing in the center with mermen blowing through their shells on either side.
While we wandered along the piazza, we just enjoyed watching the people. Children chasing the pigeons, people having lunch or just soaking up the warmth of the sun, and tourists taking photos of everything (yeah – I was one of them!). As we sat on a bench to relax, we listened to the two boys on the next bench calling out to anyone that would listen to them to buy their fresh squeezed orange juice. Chatting with them (and getting their photo), we learned that they were two American students in Rome for school who decided to make a little extra cash. I’m not sure how much they made from their bench since I didn’t see anyone else come to their make-shift juice stand, which consisted of a flimsy tray, a juicer, and a bag of sugar. But they were enjoying the day and having fun so all was good.
At the northern end of the piazza was an art show – easels displaying the works of local artists. It fit my idea of Rome – so much fine art in this town that they should have a vibrant local art scene. Cafes were all around this end of the piazza (not so much on the southern end) and the homes as well as the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone that line the piazza were beautiful. Sadly, I wasn’t able to get into the church, which is supposed to be built on the site where in AD 304 St. Agnes was exposed in efforts to get her to recant her faith. Next time in Rome (I guess I need to throw that coin into the Trevi Fountain with all this thinking about my next time in this city…)!
Piazza Navona is not far from many of the wonderful churches of Rome. It is just around the corner from the San Luigi dei Francesi (home to three magnificent Caravaggio paintings) and a couple blocks away from the Pantheon. And be sure to stop by for a quick look at one of Rome’s talking statues, Pasquino, which rests right around the corner from the southern tip of the Piazza Navona.
Piazza Navona is my preferred square in Rome but at the time of my visit in December 2007 I felt extremely disappointed by the way she looked.
First of all the large central fountain “Fontana dei Fiumi” of Bernin was in restoration. This marvellous fountain was hidden behind panels with some glazed openings. The unhappy tourist could only see some sculptures supported by scaffolding.
Since the summer of 2008 the marvellous central fountain is again visible, a great relief for those who love this piazza like me and were disappointed by what they saw.
My disappointment did not stop there, in December the beautiful perspective of the Piazza Navona is destroyed by fairground stalls mixing a fun fair and a kind of Christmas market without anything of the charm of the Christmas markets of Germany or Alsace.
Don't expect to sit at the nice terraces of the cafes or restaurants; they look at the back of the shacks.
On a sunny Sunday in February 2008 I came back with my wife. The last time she had been on the Piazza Navona was in the early nineties. Although the December fairground was gone she also felt very disappointed. She discovered in the sixties what was once a so romantic piazza. Now all romantic has gone at Piazza Navona and has left room for a commercial market.
Of course this is a personal totally subjective appreciation of persons who have seen this piazza before the great tourist invasion. I'm sure that most first visitors love the present lively Piazza Navona. Elder visitors have found other, still hidden, romantic places in Rome.
Note - May 2008.
From comments received from much younger people than myself (so not influenced by romantic souvenirs of thirty or forty years ago) my disappointment appears to be shared not only because of the works at the main fountain but also because of the somewhat "seedy" aspect of the piazza.
In the center of the Piazza Navona is one of Bernini’s most magnificent fountains, built at the base of an Egyptian obelisk - Fountain of the Four Rivers.
While the piazza is set on the site of the ancient stadium for Domitian (1st century AD), the redesign of the piazza into a local community spot didn’t occur until the 1600s when Pope Innocent X decided to fix up the piazza that was home to his family palazzo. Innocent decided to commission a fountain to support the obelisk that had been laying around for centuries in the Circus Maximus, broken into five pieces.
Bernini was the leading sculptor in Rome during this time, but the story is that Pope Innocent purposely would not allow Bernini to put in his bid to create the statue – not sure why, perhaps to give some up and coming artists a chance or maybe he felt Bernini was overwhelmed with all his other projects). Anyway, Bernini did come up with a design and the pope’s nephew found a way to get his uncle to see the design and, as they say, the rest is history.
The fountain is designed around the concept of four large allegorical statues at the base of the obelisk, which appears to be a large rock. These figures represent four rivers of the world – not necessarily the longest or the most famous rivers as we think of them, but remember the time of the sculpture and the geography known in the 1600s. The rivers of the fountain are the Ganges, Danube, Nile, and the Plate.
The obelisk was brought to Rome by Emperor Domitian (same guy who built the stadium where the Piazza Navona is located). The hieroglyphics on the obelisk aren’t really Egyptian since Domitian paid some Romans to carve them and refer to Domitian as the ‘eternal pharaoh’ and record his father and brother as gods. At the top of the obelisk is a dove, which represents Pope Innocent X.
The fountain is a very popular place with tourists and, where lots of tourists are, you can bet the salesmen of cheap sunglasses, knock-off purses, and silly toys will be there. Unfortunately, they were all around the base of the fountain itself so that if you wanted to get up close and look at the fountain, you had to run through the gauntlet of these never-accept-no-for-an-answer guys. Just walk through them, don’t make eye contact, firmly say no, and enjoy Bernini’s fountain!
The fountain designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini is surmounted by a Roman obelisk topped by the papal dove, crest of Pope .
Bernini's scholars assisted in the execution of the central fountain of the rivers (Photo 2) Ganges, Nile, Danube and Rio de la Plata which represented (at that time) the four corners of the earth (apologies to the Aussies). The Bernini-Borromini rivalry is notorious and it has been said that explains the hand of Rio de la Plata, scared that the church built by Borromini might fall on him, and the Nile covering his head in order not to see the church of the rival. These gestures could also be interpreted as a symbol of mankind, scared and ignorant. The fountain, in fact, was designed and completed before Borromini received the commission for the Church of Santa Agnese.
Always crowded by tourists during the day and a center of night life, Piazza Navona was embellished at the end of XIXth century by the addition of the third fountain on the north side.
Bernini redesigned a previous basin by Giacomo della Porta adding the central statue "il Moro" (the Moor), which he personally sculpted (photo 3).
Rome holds a very special attraction for me at sunrise. Even the most popular destination will unveil her heart to you at dawn - when it is quiet, solitary, with lingering traces of the previous night's revelry (photo 1). Strewn evidence of the racous nightlife will shortly give way to the artisan's easel. The commanding presence of the Church of Santa Agnese en Agone will open its doors to the devoted - not an unusual scene in Rome where revelry and reverence co-exist, seemingly oblivious to each other or, perhaps, choosing to ignore one another. Sunrise reveals the secrets of the night and you are privy to the transition. The absence of people provides an unobstructed view of the resident art - the rising sun baths the piazza in radiant light. Witness nature embellish art - changing the tint of travertine from moment to moment. I won't blink - won't miss a shade.
Photo 2 - Piazza Navona is bustling during the day and always a center of Rome's night life. The Piazza in daytime with artists and browsers with the Church of Santa Agnese in Agone in background.
Photo 3 - Piazza Navona was frequently flooded - nope, not by rain nor storm runoff or the Tevere -- by Romans themselves to provide fun for all! This plate by Vasi shows us Piazza Navona in summer when it was flooded to provide refreshment to the Romans - reminiscent of an ancient era when the Stadium of Domitianus was used for "naumachias" - combat boat games.
Photo 4 - Marcel's show early evening in summer - a "must see" especially for families - more detail on Local Customs tip
The Piazza was embellished at the end of 19th century by the third fountain on the north side. Pope Innocentius X, Giovanni Battista Pamphili 1572-1655, was elected in 1644. (More detail on the fountains in another tip). He was born in the family palace in Piazza Navona and is buried in the Church of Santa Agnese in Agon. This gives us a hint as to why he devoted effort and resources to transform the former vegetable market among the ruins of the Stadium of Domitianus into one of the most impressive piazzas in all of Rome.
While Rome has many wonderful areas, perhaps the heart of the historical center is here, Piazza Navona. Night life until 2-3 in the morning - mimes, artists, beggers, restaurants, bars, famous ice cream, wonderful shops, musicians, a gorgeous church, and three fabulous fountains! Yes, maybe the food and drinks are overpriced - but sitting in the piazza watching the world go by is so lovely, how can you complain?
If spending extra for the view and scene offends you, see my tip on the neaby but almost hidden restaurant LaFocaccia where you can spend less but eat well.
The oval (but small) shape of the piazza follows the curves of the original stadium, built by Domitian. Originally called the Piazza "in Agone" for the contests he staged here ("agone" were classical Greek nude atheletic contests), the name was corrupted over the years from "in agone" to Navona.
However, the name of the beautiful Church, St. Agnes in Agone, remained unchanged. It's still being restored, but is now open to visitors.
Take a closer look at my photo of a detail of Bernini's Fountain of Four Rivers, which is in the center of the piazza. A bit of trivia with which you can amaze your friends (or not): the drain for the fountain is hidden in the mouth of the fish! Check it out for yourself.
This piazza is a marvel of light and sculpture. It is exceptionally long and owes its shape to the ruins that formed it, for under the buildings that surround Piazza Navona are the remains of the Circus Domitianus, Domitian's stadium -- a part of which can be seen if you leave the piazza by the north exit and turn left. The piazza marks the area for the races in the stadium. It features many fine old buildings, a beautiful church and three stunning fountains.When we were there there was heaps of construction and renovation in progress so we could not enjoy the area much.
Another highlight on the Navona square is the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone. It was commissioned in 1652 by Pope Innocent X and built on the site where according to legend, St. Agnes was stripped naked, but miraculously saved from disgrace by extraordinary growth of hair.
What a beautiful square! Piazza Navona is very popular among the visitors of Rome that come here for the lovely atmosphere as it is full of street artists, musicians, numerous outdoor cafes and many stalls with products and souvenirs. The place is always busy with people and its nice to see during the day but also later in the night (pic 1), we passed through many times during our visit as it located at the historic centre.
This baroque square has the form of the stadium of Domitian that used to be on the same site (1st century AD) and later during the middle ages it was used for horse races. There are some interesting palaces and churches(Sant'Agnese) around but also beautiful sculptures to see and 3 beautiful fountains:
Fontana del Nettuno (pic 2).
Fontana del Moro (pic 3), a beautiful fountail indeed, showing a Moor fighting with a dolphin, originall the fountain was a large basin but Bernini added the sculpture in 19th century.
Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (pic 4), The fountain of the 4 rivers is my favorite one showing 4 figures that represent 4 rivers(Danube, Ganges, Nile, Plate) from 4 different continents(Europe, Asia, Africa, America). Above them is an obelisk while at the top is a dove with an olive branch. My favorite sculpture is the one of Rio de la Plata that seems to be afraid of something, lovely pose for picture (pic 5)
Perhaps the most beautiful piazza in the city, Piazza Navona used to be a Roman circus (that’s why its shape is elliptical). This elegant area, surrounded by beautiful houses, the Church of Sant’Agnese and adorned by three of Bernini’s fountains is a Roman trademark. And of course, let us not forget the mandatory obelisk! I recommend you take a moment to sit down and enjoy a coffee while looking at people passing by… very relaxing and enjoyable. The main fountain is La Fontana dei Quatro Fiumi (1651) or Fountains of the Four Rivers. The fountain was so big that Bernini didn't sculpt the figures himself but had his scholars do it. Claude Poussin sculpted Ganges, the Nile was done by Giacomo Antonio Fancelli, the Danube by Antonio Raggi il Lombardo and the Rio de la Plata by Francesco Baratta. Ordered by Innocent X after many intrigues between arch-rivals Bernini and Borromini, this was such an exensive piece of works, taxes had to be levied on bread (which prompted such reactions from the Romans: We need something else than spires and fountains. We want bread: bread, bread, bread).
Looking at its elegant Baroque buildings, its beautiful Bernini fountains, its smart cafes, it's hard to think of the Piazza Navona as anything but a lively city square - albeit a very long elliptical one, but it's that elliptical shape that tells us something of the piazza's past life. When that ellipse was first laid out, it was ringed with stands for the thousands of spectators who flocked here to witness the games and mock naval battles that were ancient Rome's favourite form of entertainment.
Entertainment is probably still the main reason people come here, though these days that takes the form of people watching - seeing and being seen. The haunt of street artists, buskers, living statues - there's always something going on. Children chase pigeons, tourists sit self-consciously for a holiday portrait, hawkers ply their gaudy wares - if you're going to blow the budget and indulge in one pay-through-the-nose- for-a-ringside-seat coffee or gelato, this is the place to do it.
Check out the fountains (they are stunningly beautiful) and the gracious buildings around the piazza; window shop in some of the small streets leading off the square - the area is particularly noted for antiques and art galleries but there are all sorts of delicious goodies to tempt the eye and the wallet; and then come and find a place under an umbrella, order what you fancy (tartufo at Tre Scalini is my recommendation - chocolate heaven!) and enjoy yourself. You're in Rome's favourite outdoor drawing room.
This piazza, situated a mere stone throw away from the Panteon again has one of Bernini's creation in the form of a fountain *and yes, I am going into THE book again* - this is where the 'water' clue can be found :-)
The main feature to this piazza is the central fountain by Bernini - the Fontana dei Fiumi.
The first thing obvious is the structure that supports an obelisk that was an ancient Roman imitation of the Egyptian form. All around this structure are four giant statues by Bernini's pupils following his designs representing the Nile, the Danube, the Ganges, and the Rio della Plata, each representing one of the four quarters of the world.
The piazza itself is flanked by open air cafes so there is plenty of opportunites to simply relax, enjoy the ambience and have a cuppa relaxing coffee *or tea if that catches your fancy*. There is also plenty of buskers around the piazza, a pleasant occupation to see.. a coupla euros and some of the mimes will even have do a stint or two for you!
Unfortunately, the piazza's gorgeous views is marred by the fact of the tons of street peddlers selling their wares - usually fake designer bags. There was this huge fight between an Italian peddler and a foreign one (I think its Indian and African) that knocked the Indian out cold and plenty of bloodshed on the Italian - the intervention of the local police did not dispel some of the fear of the piazza, especially at night! And this fight was in broad daylight even.
Don't let this tip stop you from going tho - jz be careful.
My favourite Piazza in Rome is Piazza Navona.
It is a large pretty oval Piazza, lined by with beautiful buildings including a church and lots of cafes, perfect for people watching.
There are 3 fountains, artists, street entertainers and plenty of tourists.
On a sunny day, grab a gelato from one of the numerous options and relax by one of the fountains.
Or why not take a seat at an outdoor table at the famous Tre Scalini and indulge in their sinful Tartufo.
The streets surrounding Piazza Navona are filled with interesting shops, cafes and bars. So take a wander and explore.
The Piazza Navona is a marvel of light and sculpture. It's the longest Piazza in Rome. The piazza marks the area for the races in the stadium.
It features many fine old buildings, a beautiful church and three stunning fountains.
Piazza Navona is an extremely lively place with open air cafes around it. During the summer there are numerous artists who draw or paint members of the public for a fee. The place is crowded each day and there are often buskers and sometimes mimes to entertain.
No visit to Rome is complete without a visit to this Piazza.
Piazza Navona: The square is best for people watching. Not only that, it is very close to Pantheon being in the western side and the spot where street artist show their wares. There are many restaurants around the piazza which looks expensive, and they are! A variety of shops, in some cases specialty shops and lots of bars and cafes. I sat on concrete benches within the square and had spent an hour or so, with young excursionist wandering around, who I guess are students on educational tour being watched by their teacher as a leader. Had our packed lunch while watching one of the fountains in the centre of the piazza called the Four Rivers. There's one thing you need not forget. Visit the baroque church dedicated to St. Agnes which is nearby. These simple things I did, made wonders. The way of life is very different. It's interesting!
Piazza Navona is a great place to people watch, eat and walk around. It has an unusual, elongated oval shape that is the same as that of the ancient Domiziano Stadium over which the square was built. The centerpiece of this square is the Fontana dei Fiumi by Bernini, which is the base of the Egyptian obelisk in the center; and Palazzo Pamphili & Fontana del Moro. Around the Fontana dei Fiumi are four giant statues by Bernini's pupils following his designs representing the Nile, the Danube, the Ganges, and the Rio della Plata, each representing one of the four quarters of the world. There are also open air cafes which serves nice food & wine (at a higher price, of course). The area is also lively with painters and buskers who will entertain for a fee
Personally, I find the square to be a wonderful piece of history and art. However, it is somehow shadowed by the numerous vendors selling fake designer bags, cheap toys and all sorts of tacky (probably made in china plastic souvenirs) right in front of the monuments. It tough to take a nice picture of the whole fountain without having them in the picture