Piazza Navona in Rome. Sights of Rome

Piazza Navona and three fountains. Rome. Italy

Piazza Navona (translated as Piazza Navona) is one of Rome’s many landmarks, or the Eternal City as it is also known.

Rather elongated from south to north, the square, measuring approximately 240 by 40 meters, is a walkable tourist area with three famous fountains.

Piazza Navona in Rome

Piazza Navona in Rome

Where is Piazza Navona

The landmark is located in the central part of Rome, 300 meters west of the Pantheon and 2 kilometers northwest of the Colosseum.

Piazza Navona in Rome

Fountains in Piazza Navona

There are 3 fountains. They are what attracts not only locals but also many tourists.

Four Rivers Fountain

It’s the biggest fountain, located in the heart of Piazza Navona, and it’s one of the most famous in Rome. The masterpiece was erected by sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini according to his own Baroque design.

The Fountain of Four Rivers

Fountain of the Four Rivers

The history of the appearance of this fountain is remarkable. Pope Innocent X, who ruled in the 17th century, wanted the obelisk of Pamphili, which the Emperor Caracalla brought from Egypt, to stand in front of his palace. A fountain was to be erected by the obelisk.

Bernini was not going to take part in the design competition, but Ludovisi (his patron) was able to persuade the master to make his own model of the fountain, which he arranged to have displayed in the papal dining room.

After breakfast, the Pope saw the model and was delighted. Thus the fate of the project was sealed. At the same time, the Pope said that only someone who was prepared to take care not to even accidentally see Bernini’s project could refuse it. Although there are rumors that the master himself was dissatisfied with the result.

The sculptor, especially for the Pope, for whom he had warm feelings, arranged quite a spectacular trick at the opening ceremony. Deciding to see the masterpiece built, the Pope appeared on the square a little before the fountain was opened to the public. He looked at the sculpture with admiration for a long time, and before he left he decided to ask when the water would be running. Bernini did not answer directly, but when the Pope, after blessing the fountain, was about to leave, he gave a signal. At that moment the jets began to blast out, much to the delight of the patriarch, who had not expected such a planned “miracle”.

Then the inhabitants of Rome could see the fountain, who were also captivated by its beauty.

How does the Fountain of Four Rivers look like

What exactly could the Romans see? The column, brought from the African continent by Emperor Caracalla, was surrounded by an artificial lake. In its center were symbolic statues of the four rivers, which were the symbols of the four parts of the world.

The Fountain of Four Rivers in Rome

Europe was represented by the Danube, India by the Ganges, the great Nile, naturally Africa, and America by the river La Plata. Near each deity is an animal. Next to the African is a lion, and next to the Ganges is a horse. The entire sculptural composition looks extremely lively and dynamic.

Piazza Navona and Fountain of Four Rivers

You get the impression that the river gods incredibly found themselves on the square, which surprised them a lot. The Nile is wrapped in a blanket, and the Danube is studying the African column. The Moor, representing the La Plata River, was startled by something and recoiled.

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A sculpture of the Four Rivers Fountain

The Moor sculpture of the Four Rivers Fountain

The legend of the fountain

One legend has it that Bernini portrayed one of his ill-wishers in this way, taking very subtle and refined revenge on him. A closer look reveals that the distraught Moor’s gaze is directed at the Church of Santa Agnese across the street. It was designed by the architect Boromini, a rival of Bernini. The sculptor did not like the structure, which, in his opinion, greatly spoiled the architectural ensemble of the entire square. It was this kind of tasteless architecture of Santa Agnese that caused the Moor to be so horrified.

No doubt the legend is witty. But it couldn’t be true, because the cathedral was built a few years after the fountain. Bernini’s idea was that the Moor was forced to recoil by a stone serpent, which seems to be about to encroach on La Plata’s gold coins.

In the Middle Ages, the fountain served not only as an aesthetic ornament, but also as a source of water used by the inhabitants of the houses nearby. This beautiful fountain, like some other Roman fountains, is fed by water from the aqueduct Aqua Virgo.

Fountain of Neptune

You will see it in the northern part of Piazza Navona, 90 meters from the previous fountain.

The Neptune Fountain used to be called “Fontana del Calderari” because it was located next to an alley where there were blacksmith and pottery workshops that gave off a lot of heat, almost like volcanic calderas.

Neptune fountain. Piazza Navona

The Neptune Fountain in Piazza Navona

The Neptune Fountain basin was designed in 1574 by the architect Giacomo Dela Porta without a sculptural group. He was also responsible, by the way, for the Fountain of the Moor, which was built in the southern part of the square.

The money for the construction was given by Pope Gregory the Eighth.

The lower part of the pool is finished with white marble. The upper one is made of local stone, brought from the city of Pietrasanta. For more than 300 years the fountain had no statue.

In the 19th century the importance of Roman fountains as sources of drinking water and bathing water began to decline, but their aesthetic and political importance grew. Especially in the second half of the 19th century, when Italy became an independent state with its capital in Rome.

The Neptune Fountain, as we see it now, was finished only in 1878 by the architect Antonio Dela Bitta. He added the figure of Neptune fighting the octopus to the composition.

Statue of Neptune fighting with an octopus

And another sculptor, Gregorio Zappala, worked on the creation of other statues on the mythical theme of “nereids with cupids and walruses. The statues were installed to harmonize with the figures of the Moor and Four Rivers fountains.

Moor Fountain

As you have already realized, this fountain is built in the southern part of Piazza Navona.

Sometimes it is called the Fontana del Moro (in the original Fontana del Moro). Although in fact “Moor” and “Moro” are the same word. The Moor fountain represents an African Moor standing on a large shell, surrounded by four newts.

This fountain was designed by the architect Giacomo dela Porta in 1575. However, it had only dolphins and newts. It was not until 1653 that a statue of the Moor, designed by Bernini, was added to the architectural ensemble.

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The Moor Fountain in Rome

The Moor Fountain

In 1874, during the reconstruction of the fountain, the original statues were transferred to the Galleria Borghese. And in their place placed copies.

In September 2011 the fountain of Moor was damaged by a vandal who attacked the statue with a hammer. Incidentally, the same vandal on the same day damaged the famous Trevi Fountain.

Piazza Navona in Rome

The famous square in the historic center of the Eternal City has long been loved by its inhabitants and is the most popular tourist spot in the Italian capital. Piazza Navona delights with the splendor of its medieval fountains, the baroque architecture of its buildings and the uniquely lively atmosphere created by actors and musicians and street artists performing for a casual audience.

Piazza Navona

Anyone who has seen Rome from a bird’s eye view may have noticed that Piazza Navona resembles the shape of an ancient Roman arena. Even a cursory glance at the city map bears an obvious resemblance to the famous Circus Maximus, the “Great Circus” that lies in the valley between the Palatine and Aventine hills of Rome, the surroundings of which still remain free of urban development.

Attractions in Piazza Navona

As one of the city’s most beautiful squares, Piazza Navona is surrounded on all sides by elegant palaces and adorned with beautiful fountains. Literally every façade overlooking the square hides a centuries-old history full of important events and intrigue, embellished with legends carried down through the centuries, of which 39rim.ru is sure to mention.

Buildings

Piazza Navona has several palazzos and baroque churches.

    – A splendid palace of the middle of the XVII century, built by the will of Pope Innocent X Pamphili on the project of the architect Gieralomo Rinaldi. Today the palace houses the Brazilian Embassy. – A Baroque religious building built as a family chapel on the site of a former ancient parish church dedicated to the Christian martyr Saint Agnes. The temple was built by such famous architects as Giralomo and Carlo Rinaldi, as well as Francesco Borromini. – The palace, built at the end of the XVIII century in the neoclassical style. Today the building is one of the city’s museums.
  • Palazzo De Torres-Lancellotti, a sixteenth-century palace designed by the Neapolitan architect Pietro Ligorio and still privately owned.
  • Palazzo Tuccimaei of the second half of the 16th century, owned by members of the noble Tuccimae family.
  • Church of Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore, located in the southeastern part of Piazza Navona.

Piazza Navona in Rome

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Fountains in Piazza Navona

After the rebuilding of the ancient aqueduct Aqua Virgo in 1570, on the orders of Pope Gregory XIII, work began on the construction of a network of underground canals to provide water to the most densely populated areas of Rome. For this purpose, two reservoirs were built in Piazza Navona in 1575-1576:

    It was designed by the architect Giacomo della Porta for the Calderai family who lived nearby. The sculptures that decorate the fountain today and gave it its name were placed only in 1878. It is located in the southern part of Piazza Navona, opposite the house of the Pamphili family. A marble basin, similar to the previous one, was installed by Giacomo della Porta. The architect decorated the fountain with statues of four tritons, originally intended for the fountain in Piazza del Popolo, but left unused.
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In 1651, Pope Innocent X commissioned Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini to adorn the fountain directly opposite his Palazzo. The architect placed three dolphins in the center of the basin, supporting a large seashell, but the pontiff was dissatisfied with the small size of the sculptural group and asked the artist to sculpt something larger. Bernini eventually installed a muscular male figure in the center of the fountain, with decidedly non-European features and build, for which the statue was first called “Ethiopian”, then “Moorish”. Thus, this name was later extended to the fountain itself.

Since the pipeline running from the Aqueduct of the Virgin passed through the center of Piazza Navona, it was decided to build another small basin here, intended for watering the animals. It was called the “horse trough”. It existed in this form for almost a century, until the Pope’s mistress, Olimpia Maidalchini, declared that the square needed more impressive fountains.

Fountain of the Four Rivers

The main decoration of Piazza Navona is the monumental composition located in the central part of the square, the Four Rivers Fountain, realized by the greatest sculptor and architect of the Renaissance, Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini.

Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain

The story of its creation began with the approach of the Jubilee year 1650, when Pope Innocent X, not without the influence of Donna Olympia, decided to build in the center of Piazza Navona another monumental fountain, replacing the reservoir that stood there with something more majestic. After announcing the competition and inviting a number of architects to participate, the pontiff, however, “forgot” to send an invitation to the then already famous Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini.

This was because Bernini was the official favorite of the previous pontiff, Pope Urban VIII (Barberini). However, the family Barberini and Pamphili were in a perennial conflict, which heated up to the point that after the death of Urban VIII and the ascension of Innocent X to the papacy, members of the family Barberini were persecuted and forced to flee Rome. This explained why Bernini was not invited to take part in the competition, and why the papal favorite, Francesco Borromini, was in the lead.

However, for the device and full functioning of the future monumental fountain required to make certain mathematical calculations and bring another branch of the pipeline with water, which asked Bernini to do. The architect resorted to cunning – he not only made the calculations, but also presented as a gift to the daughter-in-law of Innocent X model of his fountain, made of silver. Olimpia Maidalchini, being a rather greedy woman, accepted the gift, while the Pope, convinced that the final choice had been made, rejected all other projects. Francesco Borromini was furious when he learned that the pontiff preferred to realize the project of his rival. Thus another monumental masterpiece by Bernini, the Fountain of the Four Rivers, one of the most beautiful fountains in Rome, appeared in Piazza Navona.

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The costs of erecting the new fountain were so high that to satisfy the wishes of Donna Olympia, Innocent X was forced to impose a tax on the bread produced in the city, for which the Pope’s sister-in-law was hated by the whole nation.

The History of the Square

Piazza Navona in the center of the capital was built on the site of an ancient stadium. The arena, built around 86 AD by Emperor Domitian (51-96 AD), was intended for games similar to the Greek athletic competitions and was called Circus Agonalis (from the Greek “agones”, i.e. games). The size of the stadium, according to 39rim.ru, was impressive – its length was about 280 meters and a width of more than a hundred meters, which allowed to watch the competitions for 20 thousand spectators. Its two main entrances were located on both sides of the long arena, the original remains of which can be seen today at 6 meters deep in the nearby Piazza di Tor Sanguigna, located on the north side of Piazza Navona.

Underground Rome of Piazza Navona

The Domitian Stadium is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was opened to tourists in 2014. The archaeological complex can be visited daily from 10:00 to 19:00. The entrance ticket, which costs 8 euros on a smartphone, includes the use of an audio guide in 6 languages, including Russian.

Like many other ancient buildings of ancient Rome, gradually crumbling and partially buried under the sand and silt of the overflowing Tiber, the Stadium of Domitian was dismantled and its parts served as building materials for the construction of new urban buildings.

From the 1400s the vast space began to be used as a marketplace, where city festivals, festivals and processions were also held. The Spanish Christian community, whose center was the church of Sant Giacomo degli Spagnoli built in 1450, paved and partly reorganised the square, but the whole architectural ensemble of Piazza Navona visible today was realized thanks to the efforts of Olimpia Maidalchini (1591-1657), better known as Donna Olimpia.

Hotels near Piazza Navona

If you’re on your way to Rome and are looking for a comfortable hotel near Piazza Navona, take a look at what we’ve got for you.

Donna Olympia and Piazza Navona

Donna Olympia, a native of the Roman province of Viterbo from the aristocratic family of the Sforza condottiere Maidalchini, was a strong-willed, ambitious and goal-oriented woman.

Donna Olympia Maidalchini

After her first early marriage to one of the richest men in the province, Paolo Nini, who left her a widow after three years of marriage, she married Pamphilio Pamphili (1564-1639), who was 27 years older. He was a brother of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Pamphili (1574-1655), who subsequently occupied the papal throne as Innocent X. Evil tongues said that Donna Olympia was more attached to her brother-in-law than to her husband, and had an affair with him. The imperious woman demanded that her high-ranking relative build a palace that would be in keeping with the Pamphili family’s new position in society.

Curious Facts

The inhabitants of the Eternal City still remember the times when the magnificent Roman square was briefly turned into a lake and, for fun, it was even used for water battles in the manner of navmachia – ancient Roman battles on the water. For two hundred years, on hot summer days, on weekends, the drains of the three fountains in Piazza Navona were blocked and the square was flooded, to the great delight of all the inhabitants of the capital.

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Piazza Navona

According to historical accounts, this event occurred for the first time on June 23rd, 1652, when the pontiff’s daughter-in-law Donna Olimpia Maidalchini, who wanted to have fun, persuaded him to pour water over the concave surface of the square. The flooding lasted until late the next morning and a similar action was repeated every year since, until the death of Innocent X. Soon after, for health reasons the attraction was forbidden, and only 27 years later Pope Clement XI (1649-1721) allowed water festivals on the Roman square again. Pope Pius IX finally forbade the holding of the Lago di Piazza Navona in 1866, and after Rome was proclaimed capital of the Kingdom of Italy, the square’s surface was paved with black basalt sampietrini, which made it impossible to hold water games of any kind.

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The famous ghosts of Navona

As already mentioned, the urban population of Rome hated Maidalchini, who had a great influence on the Pope and who became immensely rich during his pontificate. After the death of Innocent X, she hid for a long time, the pontiff lay unburied for several days, and Donna Olympia fled from Rome, not allocating a single scudo for the funeral. She took with her as much jewelry as she could carry away. The last time her carriage full of gold was seen tipped over on the bridge of Ponte Sisto. The new Pope Alexander VII forbade her to leave the enclave of San Martino al Cimino, which was granted to her along with the title of prince by Innocent X and where she died two years later from the plague. It is said that since then her ghost, riding in a carriage, appears annually on this bridge on January 7, the day of the Pope’s death.

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Today, Piazza Navona is an exceptional landmark in Rome, where thousands of tourists from all over the world flock. It is a favorite meeting place of the inhabitants of the Eternal City, where you can spend a great time watching the leisurely flow of water from the magnificent fountains, which provide coolness in the hot summer days. In winter, the historic Roman square is transformed into a Christmas market, which opens every year on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. New Year’s cheer goes on here for almost a month, bringing back memories of times gone by and reminiscing about an old-fashioned Italian Christmas. But any time of year, once in Piazza Navona, everyone will cherish this unforgettably warm corner of the Eternal City.

Where is it and how to get there

Many tourists usually don’t ask this question because the square is in the historic center of the Eternal City and everyone who comes to Rome will sooner or later find themselves there.

For those who purposefully intend to visit Piazza Navona, it is quite far from the metro stations, so the best way to get here is to take a bus that runs along the Corso del Rinascimento. The nearest bus stops are Senato and Rinascimento, where bus routes #70, 81, 87, 492, 628, as well as #6 and #7 run only at night.

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