Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo is one of the most famous and visited squares in Rome, located under the splendid gardens of the Pincio. It was the main entrance to the city in ancient times.
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    • Where is it:
      Campo Marzio, center

    • Build by:
      Architect Francesco Fontana in 1589

    • What to see:
      S. Maria del Popolo, S. Maria dei Miracoli, Santa Maria in Montesanto, Flaminian obelisk, fountain of the obelisk, fountain of the Goddess Rome, fountain of Neptune, Porta del Popolo

    • Opening:
      open to public h24

    • Tickets:
      public space, no ticket needed

    • Transport:
      Metro station Flaminio

    Piazza del Popolo: the history, churches and fountains of one of the most visited squares in Rome

    Piazza del Popolo

    Piazza del Popolo extends between the banks of the Tiber river and the terraces of the Pincio and materializes in a large space that during the Roman Empire was part of the gardens belonging to the Nero family.

    It offers some of the most beautiful monuments of Rome, among which the ancient church of Santa Maria del Popolo stands out for its history and art , with masterpieces by Caravaggio , Carracci , Raffaello and Bernini .

    Description

    The plan of the square is an ellipse whose shorter side runs along the vertical line that connects the Via Flaminia to the triptych consisting of via del Corso, via di Ripetta and via del Babbuino.

    To the north (tangent today with via del Muro Torto) we find the monumental entrance of the Porta del Popolo , to the right of which is the basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo. In the center there is the Flaminian Obelisk supported by a terrace adorned with four fountains while on the longer side of the ellipse we find the fountain of the Goddess of Rome (right) and the fountain of Neptune (left).

    The two “twin churches” are located at the intersection between the square and the three streets to the south: S. Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto.

    From the square, following on the right side of the basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, there is the long staircase that leads to the Pincio hill and its famous terrace (Piazza Napoleone) from which you can enjoy a panoramic view of Rome. A few steps from there is the largest public park in Rome: Villa Borghese .

    History

    In ancient times this site was called Campo Marzio because of the God Mars, god of war, to whom it was dedicated by Romulus . In this large square, young Romans practiced military art while adults held rallies for the election of Roman Magistrates and Senators.

    Until the 16th century, the square, then rectangular in shape, was nothing more than the starting point of three streets. Only in 1589 did it become a true urban center, thanks to the work of the architect Francesco Fontana to whom we owe the idea of ​​having placed the obelisk in the center.

    Towards the middle of the seventeenth century it was further transformed into a baroque square and the architect Carlo Rainaldi , on the orders of Pope Alexander VII , designed two churches to create an important pole that attracted the attention of all visitors and pilgrims who passed through. from the Porta Flaminia .

    The pope’s great civil engineering project was to create new squares throughout Rome by connecting them with a network of radiant streets that branched off from each square to symbolize the Trinity.

    Origin of the Name

    For a long time it was believed that the name of the square derived from the Latin word Populus (meaning poplars) due to the wood that covered the nearby mausoleum of Marcellus 1.

    From the analysis of documents found in the twentieth century, this etymology is not very plausible. In fact, it seems that the name derives from the Sancta Maria Populi Romani church , built in 1099 at the expense of the municipal authorities.

    The Flaminian obelisk

    The Flaminian obelisk in red granite, 23.2 meters high, was begun by Pharaoh Seti I of the 19th dynasty of the New Kingdom around 1300 BC, completed by his son Ramses II to erect it in the sun temple of Heliopolis. It was removed from the Roman militias by the young Octavian following the emperor Augustus in 10 BC and transported to Rome.

    Originally the emperor Constantine had the obelisk placed in the Circus Maximus . Over the centuries, the obelisk fell and was buried, both for natural causes and for vandalism. It was only by order of Pope Sixtus V that a thorough search was started.

    It was found in three pieces under masses of garbage on the site of the old Circus. At the request of the pope, the reconstruction began and by his order it was erected in the center of the square in 1589.

    Of considerable importance are the original inscriptions on the sides of the obelisk which show the dates of the coronation of both Seti I and Ramses II. Between 1816 and 1824, in a phase of renovation of Piazza del Popolo, Giuseppe Valadier embellished it with a base with four circular basins and stone lions, imitating the Egyptian style.

    The churches

    S. Maria del Popolo

    The church of Santa Maria del Popolo is located on the inner side of the Porta del Popolo. It was erected in 1099 at the behest of Pope Pasquale II with the intention of erasing the evil memory of Nero, whose ashes were buried in the gardens of his Domitia family .

    In 1227 it was rebuilt by the Roman people, from which it took its name, with a three-nave plan, and was given to the Augustinian Friars of the Lombardy congregation.

    Pope Sixtus IV made a first reconstruction of the medieval church for the Jubilee of 1475. The facade and most of the interior decoration is attributed to the sculptor Andrea Bregno and his assistants.

    In 1655-1661 Bernini partially redesigned the facade and the interior, removing numerous funeral monuments and other reliefs.

    The interior of the church houses works by Pinturicchio, Raphael, Caravaggio (“ The Crucifixion of Saint Peter” and “The Conversion of Saint Paul” ), Bernini and many other Renaissance and 17th century artists . In addition to the chapel of the main altar, there are two others: one on the right, commissioned by Cardinal Cibo (or Cybo) and built by Carlo Fontana, one on the left, commissioned by the banker Agostino Ghigi and built by Raphael.

    The twin churches

    Pope Alexander VII , with the capital donated by Cardinal Girolamo Gastaldi, commissioned the architect Carlo Rainaldi in 1662 to design two identical churches, the “twin churches”. The difficulty faced by the architect was that the dimensions and distances between streets were not the same, and Rinaldi found a complex but effective solution to maintain the idea of ​​symmetry typical of the Baroque style.

    To make the two churches look similar when viewed from the square, the architect designed the dome of Santa Maria in Montesanto with an elliptical shape, while the dome of Santa Maria dei Miracoli is circular.

    S. Maria dei Miracoli

    Located on the left of Via del Corso, Santa Maria dei Miracoli is dedicated to the Madonna who is venerated here as “Our Lady of Miracles” because of her miraculous icon placed on the high altar.

    The facade of the church has a deep rectangular pronaos with four columns supporting a tympanum surmounted by a balustrade on which ten statues depicting saints are placed. Upon entering you will immediately find a circular space dominated by the dome.

    An octagonal dome, designed and built by Carlo Fontana , stands at the top of the church and in 1825 was covered with slate tiles. To the left of the church, the quadrangular bell tower (attributed to Gerolamo Theodoli ) was built in the first half of the 18th century , mirroring that of the nearby Santa Maria di Montesanto.

    The church has four side chapels and a deep presbytery, the decoration of which, like the design of the dome and the lantern, are by Carlo Fontana. The church was finally finished in 1678 and consecrated in 1681, together with the twin of 1673.

    Santa Maria in Montesanto

    Unlike its twin, this church is a minor basilica and is also the ” Church of the artists ” of Rome. It is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary with the name of Our Lady of Mount Carmel but recently changed to that of Our Lady, Queen of Heaven.

    It was Pope Alexander VII himself in 1662 who had it built on a project by Carlo Rainaldi, but the works were interrupted at the windows of the dome due to the death of the pope. They were resumed in 1673 and completed with the architect Carlo Fontana and Mattia de Rossi , but under the supervision of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who drew up the final project in 1675.

    The interior decorations, designed by Bernini himself, were executed and completed in 1679 by sculptors of his school. The façade is the same as the sister church. The architrave above bears the commemorative inscription that celebrates the patron of the church, Cardinal Girolamo Gastaldi.

    The church, with an elliptical plan, has Corinthian pilasters, four choirs, a deep presbytery and six side chapels, against the four of the other. The liturgical hall is dominated by the dome which in the niches houses four stucco statues by Filippo Carcani known as Filippone depicting Sant’Angelo, Sant’Elia, Sant’Eliseo and Sant’Alberto.

    The 16th century Madonna di Montesanto, a table attributed to the school of Antoniazzo Romano , is placed on the high altar. The church fell into a poor state of conservation at the end of the 20th century with the risk of demolition for some decades. At the end of the 20th century, a demanding restoration was undertaken late in the day, completed in 2016, the year of its reopening.

    The Fountains

    The famous fountains in Piazza del Popolo cannot be considered as single works. Instead, they must be evaluated as elements of an architectural composition that encompasses the aesthetics and creativity of the square as a whole compared to the buildings that surround it, its shape, size and location.

    This magnificent elaboration is the result of the project created by the esteemed Roman architect Giuseppe Valadier, who worked for many decades in Rome for the commissions of some popes.

    Fountain of the Obelisk (or of the Lions)

    Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni had the first fountain built by Giacomo Della Porta , but, even if beautiful, it was judged not in proportion to the size of the square by Pope Leo XII who passed the task for the renovation to the head of the Roman classicism Giuseppe Valadier.

    Adapting a modern architectural style to an Egyptian obelisk was somewhat problematic. Around the base of the obelisk the architect had a terrace with five steps raised and small pyramids of seven steps were built at the four corners of this.

    In the upper part of each pyramid, an Egyptian-style lioness sculpted in white Carrara marble spreads water in a fan shape in round travertine basins.

    Fountain of the Goddess Rome

    It is the fountain located on the eastern side of the square near the Pincio gardens. The imposing marble sculptural group was executed in 1823 by Giovanni Ceccarini based on a design by Valadier and depicts the Goddess Roma. This , armed with a spear and with a helmet, is flanked on both sides by the statues of the Tiber and Aniene rivers and the she- wolf suckling the twins Romulus and Remus.

    Under the sculptural group, a large shell valve, also in travertine, collects the water poured from a small basin positioned higher up which flows into a large semicircular travertine basin.

    Fountain of Neptune

    In the left hemicycle of the square the architect Valadier had the monumental group of the Fountain of Neptune built , opposite the other fountain of the Goddess Rome . The sculptural work was made in 1822-1823 by Giovanni Ceccarini, The main element is represented by a statue of Neptune armed with a trident in his right hand.

    The lord of the seas and oceans is accompanied by two statues of tritons who sit at the feet of the sovereign resting on the dolphins. The element that completes the composition is a bowl from which the water of the Vergine aqueduct flows into a large shell-shaped basin, located in the lower part of the fountain.

    Porta del Popolo (Flaminia)

    Porta del Popolo, located on the northern side of the square, represents the entrance from Piazzale Flaminio and the beginning of the Via Flaminia, the ancient Roman consular road built in 220 AD where pilgrims coming from the Via Francigena passed. The original name was Porta Flaminia but is officially known as Porta del Popolo.

    It was commissioned in 1562 by Pope Pius IV to Michelangelo who passed the task to the architect Nanni di Baccio Bigio who completed it in three years of work, in 1565.

    The four columns of the external facade come from the former St. Peter’s Basilica and frame the single, large arch. On top of the latter we find a commemorative stone of the restoration and the papal coat of arms, supported by two cornucopias.

    Between the two pairs of columns were inserted in 1638 the two statues of St. Peter and St. Paul , made by the sculptor Francesco Mochi . In 1887, due to traffic requirements, the two lateral archways were opened by the architect Mercandetti , demolishing the two towers that supported the door.

    In 1655 on the occasion of the arrival of Queen Christina of Sweden,  Pope Alexander VII Chigi decided to restore the internal facade, which he entrusted to the famous Italian sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini .

    To commemorate the event, a plaque was placed on the attic with the prestigious family crest which can still be seen today. The inscription says:

    “FELICI FAUSTOQ (EU) ADMISSIONS YEAR SUN MDCLV”

    Trad: “For a happy and propitious entrance, year 1655”

    The reference is to the visit of Queen Christina who from that moment never left Rome again.

    The square today

    The square, with its 17,100 square meters, has been a pedestrian area since 1998.

    On both sides since the beginning of the 20th century there are two famous clubs, Il Bar Rosati and Caffè Canova , meeting points for all the characters of the Roman and national star system . The square is often used for large outdoor events, such as concerts and political demonstrations.

    In July 2020, the new LED lighting of Piazza del Popolo was inaugurated, replacing the previous poor lighting.

    Bar Rosati and Caffè Canova

    Bar Rosati and Caffè Canova have always been the favorite meeting places for VIP , Star of film and sport since the 60s. In a refined setting, the two structures offer breakfast, lunch and dinner combined with a wide selection of sweets and pastries.

    The shopping streets

    The three important and famous shopping streets in Rome start from Piazza del Popolo:

    Via del Babuino, which leads to the Piazza di Spagna . Prestigious street, home to luxury shops and populated by art galleries, cafes and restaurants.

    Via del Corso, which connects Piazza del Popolo to Piazza Venezia, is the realm of shopping for all budgets. Street full of churches, monuments, art, culture and political buildings. From this street, alleyways and streets full of quaint and interesting shops branch off.

    Via di Ripetta , which leads to the Mausoleum of Augustus , is at the center of the main cultural and exhibition initiatives for the purchase of works of art. The State Art School “Via Ripetta 218” is located here, but it also offers a rich choice of original artisan shops with typical food and wine products.

    How to get there

    To get to the Piazza del Popolo area you can use:
    Line A of the Rome Metro with the 2 nearby stations of Flaminio and Spagna ( view map ).
    From Termini Station: Bus 490 and 495; from the city center the electric bus 119 and bus 81.
    From Fiumicino airport: Railway FL1 and FL3.

    1. The piazza del popolo in Rome, Ernest F. Lewis, 1914. Landscape architecture magazine
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