Rome is an outdoor city. Though, of course, there are many churches, museums, restaurants, theaters and other indoor attractions, the city shines best when seen from one its piazzas.
The word means public square. But unlike some other internationally renowned cities, the piazzas of Rome are truly gathering places for people who love the beauty of outdoor art in all its forms.
Piazza Navona holds one of the finest examples of Bernini’s fountain work: the Fontana dei Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) built in 1651. Arrayed around the central rocky mass supporting the almost-obligatory obelisk are four large sculptures executed by his students. One of them, the Ganges, was sculpted by Claude Poussin who would later become a master under his own name.
The fountain is a tour de force with a sea monster, a lion, cacti, palm tree and a dozen other pieces woven together around the central column.
The funding was so large for the piece that taxes were levied on bread, prompting outcries from Roman citizens both poor and rich. But with the controversy now a part of history, the visitor can simply relax and have a cup of coffee while watching the busy city.
The Fountain of the Moor is at the other end of the piazza and features a Triton – one of the many gods of the sea – riding a dolphin. From this vantage point, there is ample opportunity for people watching, enjoying the warm Roman sunshine or planning the next stop around the Piazza Navona and its environs. For there is much to do besides admire one of Rome’s many instances of outdoor waterworks.
There are dozens of merchant stalls, interspersed among the many cafes and restaurants. You could stop near one and have your portrait sketched by one of the numerous artists dotting the piazza.
There is nightlife until early in the morning, with mimes, beggars, artists and a hundreds of natives and tourists threading through the oval plaza. The piazza was constructed around one of the ancient circuses – a circular area where streets converge, not a show with animals.
Be sure to stop in at the Tre Scalini and indulge yourself in a Tartufo. Or visit the oldest extant bar in Rome nearby, the Caffe della Pace. Here you can enjoy a Campari and take in the ambiance. Confess your sins at the Church of Sant’Agnese, set not far from three of Bernini’s famous fountains.
The Fontana dei Calderai (Fountain of the Coppersmiths), later renamed the Fountain of Neptune is also here. Festooned with sea figures, Neptune slaying an octopus, sea horses, dolphins and Nerieds (sea nymphs) it carries Rome’s fountain-sea creature theme to the ultimate peak. The fountain is made of the same Portasanta rose marble used for St. Peter’s doorjambs.
Or, you can take a short walk to the Piazza Sant’Eustachio, between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona and listen to some classical music. Or catch the bus to the Pantheon.
Don’t miss an opportunity to visit one of Rome’s most well-known public squares, even if it is round.