Though the name may not be entirely accurate (they were built by the French), the Spanish Steps in Rome deliver true delight to visitors of any nationality. ‘Ah,’ some will say, ‘they are just stairs’. A way to get from the Villa Mèdici to the Piazza di Spagna. But, as any traveler knows, it’s how you get there that counts as much as the destination.
Constructed between 1723 and 1725 the Spanish Steps or Scalinata di Spagna are 137 steps arrayed near the Piazza di Spagna – a triangular outdoor plaza and one of Rome’s most frequently visited tourist destinations.
These lovely steps, dark, elegant and winding up a moderate graded hill, connect some of the most active and delightful areas in Rome. At the same time, they are beautiful to see all on their own. A pleasure anytime of year, they are especially wonderful in spring when the city festoons the area with azaleas from its many municipal greenhouses.
The Spanish Steps are alive with flowers, people and the hint of the warm summer to come. Rome can be hot, in the mid-80s, even in late October. Nearby are some of Rome’s most upscale boutiques and dozens of restaurants, shops and sidewalk cafes. The steps themselves used to be a favorite place to rest and have a small lunch, though that is now forbidden. Naturally, Rome being Rome, that law is often ignored.
At the bottom of the Spanish Steps is the La Barcaccia fountain (Fountain of the Old Boat), one of Bernini’s many great outdoor works in the Eternal City. In the center is a sculpture of a ship that may have been designed by his son, Gian Lorenzo. Commissioned by Pope Urbano VIII Barberini in 1627, the water flows outward through ‘leaks’ in the ship.
While you are at that end, stop in and see the Keats-Shelley Memorial House. Then have something cool to drink in one of the numerous bars before starting your climb.
As you travel up the Spanish Steps, there are three large flat areas on which to rest and people-watch, shop or eat. At the top, be sure to look back and admire the stunning view before continuing on to the Church of Trinta dei Monti.
More formally known as the Santissima Trinita al Monte Pincio, the construction began in 1502 but continued for almost two centuries. Built in the late Gothic style, the facade is neo-classical. Outside there’s an obelisk, one of Rome’s many instances of this Egyptian-style sculpture, first brought to Rome around the 3rd century AD.
Only a couple of blocks away is the infamous Via Veneto where many Italian girl was ogled and pinched in the 1950s. Today, the area is tamer but no less interesting. It’s full of shops, restaurants and beautiful examples of Rome’s architecture, old and new.
No visit to Rome would be complete without visiting this landmark of Rome. Though created by the French, and named for the long-gone 18th century Spanish Embassy to the Vatican, Spanish Steps is an international delight to all.