Looking at Piazza Navona
If you only had the chance to look at the square, you would notice that it is rectangular in shape and not a square at all. This shape was dictated by its foundations, as it had to cover as much as was possible of Domitian's stadium, which dated from the Ist Century A.D. You can still see parts of this stadium, just leave by the north exit and turn left.
One of the many purposes, of the piazzas in Rome, is to enhance the buildings in the surrounding area, another is to lead to urban renewal of the area with new ones. The Piazza Navona does both enhance, which you can see just by looking at the pictures here and did lead to the new buildings being erected, as its three fountains and a church were built here.
What there is in Navona Square
The four principal parts to the piazza are: the Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone,
the Fontana dei Fiumi (four rivers fountain), Fontana di Nettuno (fountain
of Neptune) and Fontana del Moro (fountain of the Moor). The principal architect
was Gian Lorenzo Bernini one of the two main players in the Italian architectural
world of the time. Others who participated were G. Rainaldi and Francesco Borromini.
The architectural style that dominated XVIth Century Italy was Baroque, and
G. Bernini was its most famous exponent, adding a highly dramatic flourish
The Great Fountains of Rome in Piazza Navona
The three fountains here are quite literally, breathtaking. The centrepiece is the Fountain of Rivers, which was completed in 1651. The four rivers are the Nile, Danube, Ganges and Rio della Plata; each one representing a quarter of the world. These rivers are embodied in the statue that has, at the base, a rocky structure supporting an obelisk, that used to be at the Massenzio Circus. The Fountain of Neptune, also known as the Calderari, is at the northern end of the square was built by Giacomo della Porta, a student of Bernini's, in 1576, although the statues of Neptune and sea nymphs were added in the XIXth Century. Also by Giacomo della Porta, the Fountain of the Moor is at the southern end in front of the Palazzo Pamphilij featuring a statue of a Moor fighting a dolphin that was built in the XVIIth Century, although the tritons were only added in the XIXth Century.
Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone
Moving on to the church, for which there are two Christian legends, either a
twelve-year old girl refused to marry a pagan and was killed here becoming a
martyr, or was exposed naked but her hair miraculously grew covering her. Such
events or legends often led to religious monuments being built to commemorate
them and to contain their holiness. The church's construction lasted from 1652
to 1670. The principal parts are the dome and the twin bell towers, but please
take a moment to admire the facade, because supposedly one of the statues was
deliberately built to not look at fountain when it should be. There is the popular
legend that the statues of the Fountain of Rivers are covering their faces so
as to gaze at the church.
How Piazza Navona got its name
The squares name has changed many times through history, this is how we believe
it has come to be called what it is now. Domitian's stadium, on which the square
stands, was referred to as the Circus Agonalis, which translates to a competition
arena for what were Greek-styled games. The space it took up was greater than
that of the mighty Colosseum In addition, names often change as cultures and
nations rise and fall; there was no exception here as historians have argued
that it went from Agonalis to In Agone to Nagone into Navone and finally resting
Architects of the Piazza Navona
The stadium's space had been more or less abandoned since the Vth Century when
Constant II had covered it with marble. The art-loving pope, Innocent X, commissioned
Francesco Borromini, the other major player in the Italian world of Baroque
architecture, to bring it to life in 1647. He initially asked Borromini
to complete the whole project. Bernini somehow managed to get himself involved in the project and more or less took control of it, it is said. These two artists were great rivals, which is said to extend into the production of the church and fountains themselves.
Attractions to visit around Piazza Navona
There is much to see and do in and around the Piazza Navona. Go south to the "talking" statue
of Pasquino. Visit the Church of St. Luis of the French with its frescoes. Stop
by the Palazzo of Sapienza with its Church of Sant'Ivo all Sapienza. If you come
during the Christmas break there is a market here through December into early
January. This is a lively, seasonal market running up to "Befana.",
which is an old legend, marking the end of the Christmas season. Alternatively,
just sit in a cafe admiring the mimes, painters or singers.