Rome is known for its amazing public squares. They’re a place to gather, a place to relax, and a place to see some amazing architecture. Here are some of the best piazzas in Rome.
Piazza NavonaIn the 1st Century, the site that Piazza Navona was built over what was known as Stadio di Domiziano (Domitian’s Stadium) and it was here that the ancient Romans came to watch games and take part in competitions. Nowadays, Piazza Navona is Rome’s most famous square, but some of the remains of the stadium are still beneath the piazza and tours of this intriguing subterranean world are available.
For hundreds of years, the main market of Rome was held in Piazza Navona, but the traders moved during the 15th Century, leaving the piazza and all of its beauty to be enjoyed in a more peaceful environment. Piazza Navona is a hive of activity with performers, artists, and street hawkers all adding to the colorful sights and sounds. At Christmas time, the traders return with a special festive market.
There are three fountains in the piazza: Fontana del Nettuno, built in the 19th Century, is at the northern end, while Fontana del Moro, from the 16th Century, is on the southern end. In the center sits Bernini’s famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. It is decorated with a horse, a lion, and a palm tree with an obelisk on the top and is said to represent the four great rivers known at the time: Plate, Danube, Nile, and Ganges.
Campo dei FioriCampo dei Fiori translates as “Field of Flowers,” and in the Middle Ages, the area was a meadow, so it is easy to see where the name comes from. Despite the pretty-sounding name, the piazza has been the scene of some gruesome happenings and many executions have taken place here. In February 1600, a philosopher, Giordano Bruno, was burnt alive for heresy and his statue now looks down on the lively square where Romans and visitors flock to the bars and restaurants. In the summertime, families and friends gather to enjoy the warm evenings, and on December 8th every year, the Christmas handicrafts market starts. Campo dei Fiori is a few streets south of the much larger Piazza Navona and for six days a week is the site of Rome’s oldest fresh produce market. Every morning, except Sunday, locals and visitors fill the square buying fruit, vegetables, and fish as well as household goods, spices, and toys.
San PietroBetter known to millions as St. Peter’s Square, this piazza is one of the most important places to see for anyone visiting Rome and Vatican City. Standing in the square which borders St Peter’s Basilica, visitors can see the Papal apartments and the famous balcony from where the pontiff addresses the crowds. St. Peter’s Basilica is possibly the largest church in Christianity and can easily hold over 15,000 people. Most Masses from the Pontifical liturgical calendar are held in the church, but when the Holy See is expecting a large crowd, the Mass is held in the square itself. The piazza usually holds about 80,000, but figures of 400,000 have been quoted for historic occasions.
Millions of Catholics and non-Catholics have passed through this centuries old space, where the semi-circular colonnades are said to represent the arms of the church reaching out to embrace the world. On a Sunday morning, the square is full as the Pope holds Mass, where people come from all walks of life but are united by the same faith. The service is in Latin but the message is universal.
Piazza della RotundaThe focal point of Piazza della Rotunda is without doubt the Pantheon. The informal title of the Pantheon is the church of Santa Maria Rotunda, and this is where this pretty square takes its name. The brick dome on the church is the biggest in architectural history and has been imitated many times throughout the world. Another notable building in the piazza is painted a pretty shade of light blue and has a stunning fresco of the Madonna.
This piazza in Rome is one of the must-see places of Rome with a vibrant buzz in the daytime from the musicians and artists who entertain the crowds. In the evenings, it is a beautiful place for a romantic stroll arm in arm with a loved one or a walk with the family. There are many restaurants and pizzerias to choose from or just buy an ice cream and sit on the steps of the gently tinkling fountain.
Piazza del PopoloPiazza del Popolo, or the People’s Square, is seen as one of the best urban designs in Rome and dates from the beginning of the 19th Century. The oval square is near the Borghese Park and on the north side is the Porta del Popolo, which leads into Via Flaminia, which was one of the most important roads into Rome from the Adriatic coast. At the opposite end of the piazza, the two symmetrical, but not identical, churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria di Montesanto sit on either side of the Via del Corso. Since Via Flaminia was built in 220 BC, many travelers have entered the city passing through Porta del Popolo and out through Via del Corso, into the heart of Rome.
There is a lot to see as you wander around the square, statues of a sphinx and lions wait in the sun for their turn to be photographed and optimistic pigeons wait for some crumbs of pizza or bread. Take some time to visit the Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Piazza del Popolo. The whole family will be inspired by this brief glimpse into the mind of a genius and getting to play with some of his inventions.
Like any square in Rome, there are lots of opportunities to have a glass of wine, a slice of pizza, and indulge in some people watching. If you are feeling more energetic and want to get some amazing city views, find the white building in the northeast end of the square and climb the steps.
Piazza di SpagnaPiazza di Spagna is probably more well-known as the home of the Spanish Steps rather than for the square itself. The elegant Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti consists of twelve flights of stairs and 137 steps. It is the widest staircase in Europe and was given its more familiar name after the Spanish Ambassador who lived there.
At the foot of the steps, you will find the Barcaccia Fountain and, leading away from the square, are some of Rome’s most famous, and expensive, shopping streets. Via del Babuino is full of antique shops while, for more modern luxuries, the boutique-lined streets of Via Frattina, Via dei Condotti, and Via Borgognona are close by. The famous English poet John Keats lived and died in Piazza di Spagna and his house is now a small museum full of memorabilia dedicated to his memory.
The spring is one of the nicest times to visit Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps when the architecture is lost beneath a colorful display of azaleas. This has been a tradition for the past three quarters of a century and it takes council workers two days to arrange the 400 flower pots. Just watch out though, tempting as the idea of sitting on the Spanish Steps with an ice cream is; don’t do it. Roman urban regulations forbid it and the steps are usually very crowded anyway.