Piazza del Popolo is located between the Pincio district and the banks of the Tiber River. There are churches, fountains, monuments, and ancient and modern marble memoirs on the square. It was rebuilt by a Valadier architect in 1834, who designed two half-laps to the Obelisk.
Piazza del Popolo is the site where foreigners arrived in the city during the era of the Empire. The church of Santa Maria del Popolo is on the left side of the square, which was rebuilt by Baccio Pontelli and Andrea Bregno between 1472 and 1477. The church hosts paintings and sculptures by Caravaggio, Pinturicchio, Carracci, Raffaello, Bernini, and Bramante.
The square is named after the poplar tree
Rome’s Northern entrance served as a vestibule into the city through the gate in the Aurelian Walls. It was known as Porta del Popolo, but the name was changed several times. Initially, it was called Porta Flaminia, and Emperor Aurelianus commissioned the construction. Then, during the Early Medieval period, the name was changed to Porta San Valentino because of the nearby catacomb. Finally, Porta del Popolo was the official name because the church adjoining the gate is Santa Maria del Popolo.
Also, in the Middle Ages, the square was named Piazza del Trullo, after the fountain with statues in its center. This fountain was moved to Piazza Nicosia to make four fountains with Egyptian lions. It was under the supervision of Domenico Fontana.
In 1655, the Swedish Queen Christina arrived in Rome through Porta del Popolo. Bernini had been commissioned to remake the inner façade of the gate before her arrival. A plaque appeared above the arch with the sign “FELICI FAUSTOQUE INGRESSUI MDCLV” (For a Happy and Propitious Entrance), which you can see nowadays. Moreover, the Queen decided to spend all her life in Rome after her visit.
By the end of the 1700s, during the Napoleonic invasion, there was an increase in visitors and pilgrims who came to Rome through Porta del Popolo. For this reason, the square was modernized. Moreover, during the Napoleonic epoch, Touron was head of the “Commission of Embellishments” in the Eternal City. Valadier was under his commission to redesign the square. Works began in 1816 and ended in 1824. Three buildings remained untouched: Santa Maria del Popolo, Santa Maria di Montesanto, and Santa Maria dei Miracoli.
After the lateral structures were removed and the square acquired an ellipse form.
The fountain of Neptune between statues of the two tritons and the Goddess Rome was added in 1823, at the time of the reign of Pope Leo XII. Piazza del Popolo became accessible from each side. Moreover, the square became accessible to the park on the above hill, now known as Villa Borghese. Today, the three churches on the square are dedicated to the Virgin and surround the Obelisk dedicated to the pagan Sun god.
At the square’s southern end, you can find two famous symmetrical churches: the Santa Maria dei Miracoli and the Santa Maria in Montesanto. Pope Alexander VII commissioned them in 1658, and Carlo Rainaldi designed both.
The churches are not identical because the surface area of the plot of the Santa Maria in Montesanto was smaller on the left side.
However, to give the impression of symmetry, Rainaldi made an oval dome for Santa Maria in Montesanto and a circular dome for Santa Maria dei Miracoli.
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It is important to note that the third church, the Santa Maria del Popolo, was built in 1477 on the site of an 11th-century chapel. There are many remarkable artworks as Rome’s oldest stained-glass windows and paintings of Caravaggio. Also, the Chigi and the Della Rovere chapels created by Raphael were covered with 15th-century frescoes.
“Angels & Demons” (2009) is a thriller novel by Dan Brown, and it is the prequel to his worldwide bestseller, “The Da Vinci Code.” The book centers on a symbologist named Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), who is called to a Swiss research facility (CERN) to analyze a mysterious symbol seared into the chest of a murdered physicist. The symbol leads Langdon on an intense and dangerous chase through some of the most famous landmarks in Rome, including the Piazza del Popolo.
In “Angels & Demons”, the Piazza del Popolo is one of the “Altars of Science” in the Path of Illumination (a path used as a means to the Illuminati’s secret meeting place). The Path of Illumination is marked by statues of angels holding elements: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.
The Chigi Chapel in the Santa Maria del Popolo church, located in Piazza del Popolo, is the Earth altar in the novel. Here, Langdon finds the first murdered preferiti (a favorite to become the new Pope) with the ambigrammatic word “Earth” branded into his chest. The chapel also contains sculptures by Bernini, who plays a central role in the novel’s storyline.
Here is a transcript of the dialogue when Professor Langdon is standing next to the Chigi Chapel:
Is it Raphael?
LANGDON: The chapel is Raphael. But the sculptures are Bernini. The unknown Illuminati master.
LANGDON: He worked for the Church. Almost exclusively. But the Illuminati were infiltrators. There wasn’t a powerful organization on earth, they didn’t penetrate including the Vatican by hiding in plain sight.
LANGDON: Habakkuk and the Angel.
He’s the prophet that predicted the annihilation of the Earth.
LANGDON: “Let angels guide thee on thy lofty quest.” This is the first marker. The path is alive. Southwest. It was pointing southwest. Earth, air, fire, water. We’re looking for a Bernini sculpture having something to do with air. The second church is somewhere southwest of here.
You’re sure this time?
LANGDON: I need a map showing all the churches of Rome. I could use it now!
It’s worth noting that the novel is a work of fiction, and while it uses real locations and some historical events or figures as part of its narrative, the story itself, including the “Path of Illumination,” is entirely made up by the author.
There are many excellent hotels near Piazza del Popolo. This area is convenient for staying if you are interested in shopping and the most famous sites of Rome.
3 Best hotels nearby:
Read also about the best hotels near Piazza del Popolo.
Since this is a tourist area, you should be careful in choosing a restaurant. There are several options to visit:
Piazza del Popolo is one of the must-see sites in Rome. It has impressive architecture with remarkable fountains, statues, churches, and an obelisk in the center of the square. Moreover, you can quickly discover the most important Roman sites within a footwalk with its great location.
Author: Kate Zusmann
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