Sunday, 22 January 2017

Rome 365 - Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona was built over the Stadium of Domitian, used as an athletic track in ancient Rome. The buildings surrounding the piazza follow the exact outline of the stadium which was built in the 1st century.
The piazza was the scene of shows and celebrations well in to the 19th century, including a summer water festival.

During the celebrations the square was flooded and carriages would drive around through the water. This echoes the Naumachia, mock naval battles, which would have been held on this spot in ancient times.

Today's entertainment is made up of artists, performers and living statues.

The church that overlooks the piazza is dedicated to Saint Agnes and it played an important part in WWII when a clandestine wireless transmitter was hidden in one of the belfries.
The magnificance of the piazza that we see today is thanks to the Pamphilj pope, Innocent X. He commissioned Borromini to work on the family palace, Palazzo Pamphilj, now the Brazilian Embassy as well as the aforementioned church of Sant'Agnese. Pope Innocent also bought the waters of the Acqua Vergine to feed his planned fountains as well as resurrecting Domitian's obelisk which was found in fragments near the Via Appia. This was used by Bernini as the centrepiece for his Fountain of the Four Rivers.

The fountain depicts the Nile, Ganges, Danube & Rio de la Plata rivers. They represent the longest rivers in each of the continents recognised at the time of construction of the fountain & are surrounded by plants & animals native to those 


It is the only fountain in the piazza designed in its entirety by Bernini and is the subject of a story of rivalry between Bernini & Borromini. According to the story the figure representing the river Nile is blindfolded to avoid having to look at the facade of Borromini's Sant’Agnese (in reality the Nile figure is hooded probably because the rivers source wasn’t known at the time) The figure of Rio della Plata who also faces Borromini’s church raises his hand in terror as if expecting the facade to collapse. Sadly, this story has no basis in fact as Bernini had completed the fountain before work on the church had begun.

Bernini also designed the central figure holding the dolphin in the Fontana del Moro at one end of the piazza.

The Pamphilj family symbol, the dove, is in evidence throughout the piazza.

If you exit the piazza at the top end, near the tourist office, and turn left on to Via di Tor Sanguina you come to the entrance of the ruins of the original stadium. Here you can see a small section of the grandstands and also statues, decorations and the original floor.

Opening times and ticket prices for the ruins can be found here

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