Perhaps the most famous baroque square in Rome, built in the late 17th century by Pope Innocent X° Pamphilji, on the site of the stadium that the emperor Domitian had built in the first century and which perfectly preserves the shape of the arena. The stadium was meant for athletic competitions, which the Romans called Agones, hence the old name ‘Circus Agonalis’, which could accommodate 30,000 spectators. Later the name of the place that was named ‘in agone’ and then for corruption ‘Navona‘.
During the middle ages the piazza had no particular relevance for Romans’ life, whereas starting from the Renaissance it became very popular thanks to the transfer of the daily market, selling vegetables, meat and much more. It became a meeting point of selling and soon also of celebrations and processions.
The Spaniards of the Church of San Giacomo (now the Church of our Lady of the Sacred Heart) were the first at introducing the procession of Easter morning, and very soon all the celebrations which up to that moment had taken place between Testaccio, via del Corso and many other sites in the city, moved to Piazza Navona.
Moreover, at the end of sixth century, Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni wanted the fountains that adorn the two ends of the square to be placed there, the fountain of the Moor and the fountain of Neptune, both designed by Giacomo Della Porta, as well as a trough.
But the true luck of the square was the advent of Pope Innocent X Pamphilji in the mid 1600 who started a real reconstruction. At first he commissioned the architect Girolamo Rainaldi to build the family Palace, now the Embassy of Brazil, back in time house of one of the most famous and powerful women in Rome: the ‘Pimpaccia’ — Donna Olimpia Maidalchini, wife of the brother of the Pope, soon widow who gained the trust of the Pope and became so wealthy to become the mistress of the city.
His greatest credit was to convince the Pope Innocent X to commission Gian Lorenzo Bernini the fountain of the four rivers, still the most famous monument of the square along with the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone by Francesco Borromini, built on the site of the martyrdom of a young Christian, and many others like her who lost their lives during the persecution of the Empire of Domitian, in his own stadium.
Piazza Navona Summer time
Piazza Navona balconies
After the glorious Baroque, Piazza Navona became one of the most popular places in Rome. In 1870 it was paved with the famous ‘cobblestones’.
Today it is still a place for people to meet, with many artists who daily exhibit and sell their works, but also-and above all-with the Christmas market and the feast of the Epiphany, with the historic ‘Befana’ that everyone waits on the night of January 6.
Una vista dello Stadio di Domiziano
Text by Mary Di Giamberardino