Piazza Navona is undoubtedly one of Rome’s most refined squares and bright corners. In ancient times, the athletic stadium was located on this spot of the urban land, and Romans watched the “agones” or the “games.”
Piazza Navona was previously known as “Circus Agonalis” or “competition arena.” Nowadays, all guests of the Italian capital can visit the majestic baroque fountains and medieval temples.
As you wander through the historic heart of Rome, Piazza Navona awaits with its elegant Baroque artistry and deep roots in ancient history. This iconic square, with its fountains, churches, and artistic masterpieces, hides intriguing tales that span centuries. Whether you’re an architecture enthusiast or a history buff, memorize a few facts about Piazza Navona, and surprise your friends while walking around Rome. From the Stadium of Domitian’s footprint to the rivalry of legendary architects, Piazza Navona is a treasure trove of stories waiting to be explored.
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The stadium of Domitian (Stadio di Domoziano) was built in Rome as Tit Flaviy’s gift to Roman citizens and was used for sports events. Here, the second name of the stadium is Agons Arena, and Navona Square got its name thanks to this term. In the 1st century A.D., the stadium was called “Campus Agonis,” while closer to the Middle Ages, this form transformed into “n’agone.” Lastly, the name of the place was simplified to “Navona.”
The antique stadium had a really grandiose size: 275*106 meters with the quantity of spectators up to 15 thousands. Also, the arcs around the stadium had merchants and entertainment facilities. Another notable fact is that one of the brothels located near the stadium later became a church.
The Church of Santa Maria del Sacro Cuore (Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore) was erected on the ruins of Domiziana stadium in the 12th century. From the 13th to 17th century, this basilica was considered a Spanish national church in Rome.
In the 19th century, Pope Leo the 3rd renovated this wonderful church. Consequently, the main entrance was moved to Navona Square. Another exciting thing – the majority of pictures and other decorations of the temple and the sanctuary were performed mainly by the Renaissant artist Francisco de Castello.
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Navona Square is one of Rome’s most outstanding examples of baroque style. Additionally, at the end of the 15th century, one of the members of the Pamphili family bought out three old houses located on the square. A half-century later, Giambattista Pamphili took the gown and changed his name to Innokentii on the 10th. Furthermore, the Pope decided to build a family palace in the southern part of Piazza Navona.
Pamphili Palace can boast its 23 halls and a marvelous gallery that spreads almost through the ground floor. Also, all the walls in the gallery were covered with frescos of Pietro da Cortona in 1651. Later, in 1672, the church of St. Agnes, where the Pope Innokentii 5th was buried, was adjusted to the complex. Nowadays, the embassy of Brasil is inside this historic building.
St. Agnes, also called Saint Agnes of Rome, lived in the 4th century in Rome. According to the legend, Agnes was a charming teenage martyr who had dedicated her life to God as a virgin. Once, she was ordered by a Roman Magistrate to give a sacrifice to the goddess Minerva. Agnes refused, and for her integrity and faith in Christianity, which was later denounced as a cult, she was exposed to a brothel as punishment.
However, despite Agnes’s humiliation, her innocence led people to respect her. Consequently, the son of the Magistrate tried to disrespect her but magically became blind to his attempts. Finally, he was healed with Agnes’ prays. Still, it didn’t stop the Magistrate from ordering her execution about 305 A.D. Soon, and she was buried in one of the catacombs on Via Nomentana, where the second church in honor of her was located.
There are three baroque fountains, one the Navona Square.
In the center of the square, you can find the Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi), with the waters of the ancient Roman aqueduct. This fountain was built in 1648-51 by architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. A graceful baroque fountain enhanced by the statues of the river Gods and Goddesses that favor the Nile, Danube, Ganges, and La Plata.
St. Agnes’s sanctuary was decorated with the Baroque ornamental script and was built according to the project of Francesco Borromini. Moreover, Bernini and Borromini worked together until the struggle for affluent customers baffled their alliance.
Giacomo della Porta created Neptune’s fountain. However, the first version of the fountain was relatively modest and had no embellishments. Only at the end of the 19th century was it renovated by the architect Antonio della Bitta.
Fountain of the Moor (Fontana del Moro) appeared in 1576 concerning the architect Giacomo della Porta’s project. It represents a Moor standing in a conch shell while wrestling with a dolphin. Moreover, he is surrounded by four Tritons.
In 1874, during a restoration of the Moor Fountain, the original statues were moved to the Galleria Borghese and replaced with copies.
Braski Palace (Palazzo Braschi) was constructed in Rome in 1792. Cosimo Morelli worked out the architectural design and became the supervisor of the construction activities. However, Napoleon’s invasion froze the decoration works until 1811. As a result, the Braski lost the right to obtain the palace while the government couldn’t use such a luxurious and posh building.
Starting from 1949, Braski Palace was used as a shelter for 300 Italian families, and in 1952, it got the status of the museum of Rome.
The museum works from 9 am to 7 pm, the price for the ticket is 9 euros.
Official website: www.museodiroma.it
The square is crowded with tourists willing to look at baroque fountains and ancient temples. In addition, a great variety of souvenir shops placed all along the square help tourists cherish the memories of Rome and its beauties.
Read also about the Top 25 Souvenirs to Bring Home from Rome.
Author: Kate Zusmann
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