So today I would like to explain a bit about my favourite square in the whole of Rome. It is my favourite partly because of its beautifulness but mostly because of the history behind it. Every single part of it has some very interesting history behind it and I wanted to enlighten you all so if you happen to visit this square you can show off how much you know about it !
History of the Square:
The best part of the square is the fact that it looks nothing like what it used to look like thousands of years ago. In the first century this square used to be a stadium called “Stadio di Domiziano”, translated in English as the Stadium of Domitian. The Emperor Domitianus demanded its creation as a gift to the Romans. The stadium was smaller than the Circus Maximus however it was architected in a similar, oval shaped way. It was created for athletic purposes. It was only after fire-damage to the Colosseum that for a few years the stadium was also used for gladiator shows.
The Stadium was large enough to hold 30.000 spectators. In the third century, it was later reconstructed by Alessandro Severo, who changed the name of this stadium to Circus Alexandrinus.
During the medieval times, the stadium started to slowly collapse and buildings were built in it’s place. This is what we know today as Piazza Navona. It is home to one of the most important churches in Rome “Sant’Agnese in Agone”, one of the most architecturally interesting fountains called Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. It also is home to Fontana del Moro, Fontana del Nettuno.
History of the Church:
La chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone:
The Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone is a baroque church completed in 1672. The construction of the church went through the direction of three architects, Rainaldi, Borromini and Rainaldi’s son, Carlo. It is said that this church was built in dedication to Saint’Agnese, a young girl that died in the Stadium of Domitian, and who was later martyred in that same place. The interior of the building is very rich in terms of decoration. The plan of the church is in a Greek cross design, surrounded by marble sculptures and a beautiful gold altar. There are many important statues in this church such as Saint Agnes. There is also a shrine dedicated to this young martyr, with her skull and a marble relief made by Alessandro Agardi.
Furthermore, the church was also build as a request of Pope Innocent X, for it to be the future home to his tomb. The Dome, designed by Borromini is completed with a set of beautiful frescos on the Assumption of Mary started by Ciro Ferri in 1670 and completed by Sebastian Corbellini in 1689. There is so much history and art in this very church it I honestly believe it to be one of the most beautiful churches in Rome.
History of the fountains:
Fontana dei Quattro fiumi:
The Fontana dei Quattro fiumi (in English known as the Fountain of the four rivers) was projected and created by Gianlorenzo Bernini in 1651. This architect created this masterpiece as a request from Pope Innocenzo X Pamphilij. The fountain is symbolic of the papal authority throughout the world. In fact each marble statue is supposed to represent four rivers: Nile (Africa) Danube (Europe) Ganges (Asia) and Rio del La Plata (America). They are the bases of the beautiful, Egyptian obelisk ornamented with a bronze dove, a symbol of piece and the emblem of the Pope.
This fountain is probably one of the most interesting fountains you will read about. I remember going to Piazza Navona with my mum and she told me that there is a funny story behind this fountain. Legend has it, that Bernini was jealous of his rival Borromini (master architect) who was asked to project the Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone. Therefore, out of spite, jealousy and anger Bernini supposedly created the Statue that represents Rio del La Plata with his hand in the air as if he was protecting himself from the works of Borromini. This is supposed to be insulting, as if the building were to collapse.
Fontana del Moro:
This fountain, based at the southern part of the square, is also part of the works of Bernini, again under Pope Innocenzo X’s request. This fountain was sculpted in 1654 over the previous, uncompleted fountain created by another architect called Giacomo della Porta. This fountain is consisted of a figure that is part human part marine, and he is strangling a dolphin with this legs. This gigantic, central figure is named the “moro”, also known as a Moor / African. It is said that the facial features of this figure seem like those of an African man. This figure is standing in a shell, and is surrounded by four titans also in shells. There is water coming out of the strangled dolphin’s mouth demonstrating it’s strangled situation. There is always a reason behind every small detail Bernini adds to his masterpieces. This fountain however is a replica, and all the original pieces are held in the fountain of Villa Borghese in 1874.
Fontana del Nettuno:
Fontana del Neptune, also known as Fontana dei Calderai is located in the North end of the square (Image 1). For anyone who loves Greek mythology, you will find this fountain fascinating. Antonio della Bitta is the sculptor that created the main statue of Neptune fighting an occupous in 1878. The remaining eight figures were sculptured by Gregorio Zappala
For more information about Piazza Navona I would highly recommend you go to the tourist shop next to the Chiesta di Sant’agnese in Agone. On the right hand side of this church theres a small little tourist shop with a gladiator outside. Inside they have the model of how Piazza Navona used to be like as a stadium, and the staff will enlighten you about it’s history further. Also they have amazing books on Rome that show you how the most important historical sights in Rome used to be years ago.