Piazza di Spagna

Piazza di Spagna is one of the most famous and visited squares in Rome. In the center stands the Fontana della Barcaccia, designed and sculpted in Baroque style by Pietro and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Last update: 15 May 2020

    Spanish Steps and Barcaccia: History and Monuments to See

    Location: Campo Marzio

    Piazza di Spagna

    Placed in an extraordinary position in the center of the city of Rome, in Campo Marzio, Piazza di Spagna represents an internationally renowned place.

    Piazza di Spagna, with its characteristic butterfly shape like two triangles that cross at the top, as well as being a symbol of the majestic Roman Baroque , is today one of the most exclusive meeting places in Rome, with its palaces, sumptuous hotels , famous restaurants, shops and Atelier of great Griffes.

    The most famous shopping streets such as via Condotti, via del Babuino and via Borgognona depart from here.

    Features

    Piazza di Spagna has its characteristic butterfly shape with triangular wings that cross at the top. On the north-west wing, the widest, stands the staircase while on the minor wing to the south-east we find the Spanish palace.

    History

    When the Franciscan Church of the Trinità dei Monti was built (designed by Carlo Maderno, then consecrated by Sixtus V in 1587), the area of ​​the Piazza della Trinità , this its ancient name, was considered suburban, a resting place for horse-drawn cars that foreigners were transported to Rome through Porta del Popolo, the entrance from the north to the eternal city since ancient times.

    In a plan designed by the architect Pirro Ligorio this vast expanse of land was planted with vineyards with ruins of falling buildings of ancient Rome. Only two palaces remained, that of the Ferratini family , later transformed into the palace of the Collegio di Propaganda Fide, and that belonging to the Monaldeschi barons .

    In the early 16th century, the area of ​​the square that was outside medieval Rome immediately gained a role of primary importance due to the presence of hotels and apartments that gave hospitality to pilgrims and foreigners who came to Rome to visit the Vatican.

    Before the construction of the staircase, the square and the church of the Trinità dei Monti were connected only by two steep and muddy roads placed along the slope. These roads were passable only on foot.

    Precisely in this context, a Spanish ambassador rented a small building there. The increase in trade that developed in the jurisdiction suggested to King Philip IV of Spain the purchase of the entire building (1620) to transform it as a permanent home for his ambassadors. Today it houses the Spanish embassy to the Holy See.

    During the late Renaissance period, in fact, the square, thanks to its sumptuousness, was one of the most sought-after and animated centers, the most visited attraction of the city by tourists and illustrious travelers from all over Europe. It was constantly frequented by important artists, poets and writers of the time who, thanks to the unique and unrepeatable scenario, drew inspiration from it.

    In 1660 the first initiative was the project of the abbot Mazzarino thanks to a legacy from the French embassy attendant Stefano Guiffer. This project included a scenic structure consisting of semicircular ramps that led from Barcaccia (an integral part of the project) to the church on different levels.

    It had to integrate several fountains and water features, but the project was not carried out. 1

    The whole district of Rome quickly became under Spanish protection, so much so that in 1854, Pope Pius IX had the Column of the Immaculate Conception erected in front of the Spanish Embassy .

    Origin of the name

    The name Piazza di Spagna derives from the fact that the seat of the Spanish embassy in the Vatican was moved here to the Palazzo di Spagna in 1647. In the western part of the square, there is the French church of SS. Trinità dei Monti , which was then called Piazza di Francia. The memorable antagonism for the hegemony in Italy between these two great European powers was manifestly manifested in the topography of Rome.

    What to see in the Spanish Steps

    In addition to the extraordinary Barcaccia and the famous Spanish Steps , Piazza di Spagna is surrounded by important historical buildings. From the Memorial House of the English poets Keats and Shelley , to the House Museum of the painter Giorgio De Chirico , to the Palazzo della Propaganda Fide .

    Adjacent to the square is the smaller Piazza Mignanelli with the monument of the Column of the Immaculate Conception at the center of which the Pope celebrates its anniversary in December.

    Barcaccia fountain

    An important urban plan of the city gave the fountains a prominent role in the center of the main squares in Rome. In the seventeenth century the city, with the new dominant trend of the completely Baroque taste, had the need to integrate classical and medieval monuments with the new architectural and urbanistic experiments.

    Between 1627 and 1629, the scenographic project of the Fontana della Barcaccia was entrusted to the expert master Pietro Bernini , and, at his death, completed by his son, the famous sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo .

    Its position is in line with via dei Condotti and tangent to the continuation of Via del Babuino . A similar choice to the fountain in Piazza del Popolo , in axis with Via del Corso .

    Characteristic of the sculptural work with raised stern and bow, is that the travertine fountain seems to sink in the center of an oval basin slightly below the level of the almost flooded road.

    This expedient was put in place by the artist Bernini to overcome the obstacle represented by a technical problem due to the low water pressure of the Virgo Aqueduct that fed the structure.

    The lateral sides of the boat are lower and in the center a solid pillar supports a small tank from which a jet of water erupts which also spurts from other holes. Two circular sculptures in the shape of the sun with a human face from whose mouth the water flows, complete the internal decorations.

    Outside, clearly visible at the stern and bow, also the jets coming from the mouths of fake gunboats with a tiara and a bee in the center, two papal coats of arms, heraldic symbols of the family (the Barberini ) of Pope Urban VIII who commissioned the ‘Opera.

    The legend

    Legend has it that the sculptor Pietro Bernini was inspired by an extraordinary event that took place on Christmas 1598 when Rome was devastated by a terrible flood of the Tiber river that submerged the city.

    When the overflowing water of the river withdrew, a fishing boat was stranded in the center of the square and left for some time in that precise place. It is said that Pietro Bernini after thirty years from the event, built the Fontana della Vecchia Barca referring to the very singular shape of the river barges with the flat bottom that usually served for the transport of goods along the Tiber in the seventeenth century.

    Actually the Barcaccia draws from the Aqueduct of the Virgin Water, which in this area has a low level, so it was considered appropriate not to give it much elevation.

    Damages and restorations

    Damages and restorations have taken place in recent years due to the location of the fountain in one of the places with an impressive influx of tourists into the city throughout the year. In the years 1993-1999 conservation interventions became necessary due to repeated vandalism perpetrated to the detriment of the historic travertine artifact.

    In the spring of 2007, four exalted inebriated by alcohol, with a large screwdriver, carved the monumental fountain with a scar, partially removing a distinctive fragment of the papal coat of arms. Upon arrival of the police the four thugs tried to attack them but the Carabinieri had the best arresting them and thus avoiding further disfigurements.

    In February 2015, a crowd of Dutch hooligans, Feyenoord fans, were in town following their team for the Europa League meeting with Roma. Certainly under the influence of alcohol the troublemakers immersed themselves in the fountain and began to throw cans and glass bottles against the monument before the arrival of the local police.

    Numerous damages ascertained by the technicians of the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage , including a 10 cm fragment of travertine. concerning the edge of the candlestick in the center of the tub). The authorities have ascribed in the report that 110 cuts were found in the monument between scratches and chipping called ” serious damage also because permanent “.

    Palace of Spain

    The Palazzo di Spagna , a small building belonging to the ancient noble family of the Monaldeschi, was rented by the Spanish ambassadors in 1622. A few years later, in 1654, the palace was acquired by the Spanish crown as a permanent residence of its ambassadors.

    The architect Borromini planned the development of the building with the addition of the main staircase of the embassy and the hall, which were then continued by the architect Antonio Del Grande . He was in charge of completing the construction works which, with the enrichment of terraces, represented one of the most splendid architectural works of the time.

    The Spanish ambassadors in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries made the palace a sumptuous meeting place, a brilliant place for social events and celebrations which then animated the overlooking Piazza di Spagna.

    Today the embassy displays a rare collection of 17th century gobelin tapestries, while three splendid 18th century tapestries adorn the walls of the dining room. Two sculptures ” El alma beata ” and ” El alma condenada ” by Gianlorenzo Bernini and paintings from the Prado Museum by famous Spanish painters complete the artistic richness of the building.

    Column of the Immaculate Conception

    The Column of the Immaculate Conception is a 19th century monument erected in Piazza Mignanelli in front of the Spanish embassy. It is an ancient Corinthian column of Cipollino marble carved in ancient Rome and discovered in the late Renaissance at the monastery of Santa Maria della Concezione.

    Abandoned for almost a century, Pope Pius IX had the idea of ​​dedicating a monument to the Immaculate Conception, giving Luigi Poletti the task of designing a square marble base to support the column.

    The sculptor in turn commissioned four statues from other artists to make biblical characters. Thus at the four corners of the base are the marble statues of Moses ( Ignazio Jacometti ), David ( Adam Tadolini ), Isaiah ( Salvatore Revelli ) and Ezechiele ( Carlo Chelli ).

    On the top of the base the sculptor placed the 11.81 m high column. On top of the column was placed the bronze statue of the Virgin Mary, by Giuseppe Obici , represented in trampling on the symbol of original sin, a snake.

    The monument is dedicated to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception proclaimed in the Sistine Chapel by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854 with the bull “Ineffabilis Deus” which promulgated immunity from the original sin of the Virgin Mary from the moment of its conception.

    On December 8, 1857, the Pope blessed the city of Rome and the monument in memory of this dogma. Since then every year on the same day the Pope repeats the rite.

    Palace of Propaganda Fide

    The Palazzo di Propaganda Fide, known as Collegium Romanum De Propaganda Fide , was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII who commissioned the construction of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, but when in 1644 the Pope’s successor, Innocenzo X, the work was completed by Francesco Borromini .

    The property was built to house the headquarters of a new congregation intended to give impetus and direct the works of missionaries around the world (hence its Latin name).

    In 1644 Bernini designed the façade on the Spanish Steps, highlighting a coat of arms of the Pope at the top center. The great architect sculptor also built a small chapel for Pope Urban VIII.

    Francesco Borromini, a few years later, instead completed the facade of the right side overlooking a narrow street that reduced his vision. Although it was his last major project, the architect remained true to his distinctive style which respected the use of concave and convex non-architectural curves, capitals etc.

    Initially built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini inside the Palazzo di Propaganda, the Chapel of the Three Kings , at the behest of Pope Innocent X Pamphilj , was entrusted to Borromini who had it demolished by rebuilding it between 1662 and 1664.

    The dedication to the Magi was decided by Cardinal Barberini in consideration of the fact that the three kings could symbolize the first pagans converted to the Christian faith. Their conversion would have been interpreted as a sign of recognition of the spiritual values ​​promoted by the congregation.

    Keats-Shelley Memorial House

    The Keats-Shelley Memorial House, located in the building at the foot of the Spanish Steps , is a museum dedicated to the memory of the British John Keats and Percy J. Shelley, romantic poets who were enchanted by the Eternal City.

    Keats lived in this apartment located at number 26 in Piazza di Spagna only the last period of his very short life, dying off at the young age of only 25 years. On the second floor you can visit his bedroom which overlooks the square; it is a place of worship for its incredible prodigious genius and its unfortunate story.

    Over the years, Keats has been considered one of the greatest English poets of all time. In his poems there was often a reference to the sweet sound of running water that gushed from the Barcaccia fountain giving him so much comfort.

    About 8000 volumes dedicated to English Romanticism are housed in the library inside the structure together with paintings and memorabilia belonging to other poets such as Byron , Hunt and Henry James .
    Many foreign tourists visit the Memorial House, a symbol of the romantic movement. The museum was inaugurated in 1909, in the presence of King Vittorio Emanuele III .

    Babington’s: Tea Room and Restaurant

    Babington’s Tea Room is located to the left of the staircase in the most famous square in Rome. The first place to enjoy the classic English drink in the Eternal City was this tea room founded in 1893 by two English ladies residing in the capital, Isabel Cargill and Anna Maria Babington .

    Always a favorite meeting place for VIPs, movie stars and celebrities since the 60s: Elizabeth Taylor , Richard Burton , Federico Fellini and many others have tasted the classic afternoon tea chosen from an encyclopedic selection accompanied with sandwiches and muffins, cakes apples, pancakes served on delicate Chinese trays.

    In a refined setting, the restaurant offers breakfast, lunch and dinner combined with a wide selection of sweets and pastries served by waiters in classic English clothes.

    Via dei Condotti

    Via dei Condotti, located right in front of the Spanish Steps, is the chic area par excellence for shopping. Home to the most prestigious art galleries and renowned high fashion shops, here are the ateliers of the greatest stylists, from Valentino to Bulgari , from Prada to Versace , from Dolce and Gabbana to Gucci , from Chanel to Armani .

    There is also a wide range of restaurants, beer gardens, pubs and bars interspersed with boutiques and small design shops that enrich one of the most luxurious streets in Italy.

    Cinema

    Even in the world of cinema Piazza di Spagna, chosen as the original set, has taken on a prominent role thanks to the countless films where it has been immortalized with great stars of the Hollywood firmament, creating its myth.

    Roman Holidays (1953)

    Played by actress Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck , the highly successful film ” Roman Holiday ” of 1953, made Piazza di Spagna famous in the United States and around the world for the famous scenes of the two actors riding the Vespa .

    Directed by director William Wyler, the film tells the story of a young princess Anna who arrives in Rome and, tired of the rigid court etiquette, evades surveillance, goes out alone on the streets where she meets a journalist Joe Bradley who will follow her in her wandering around the city.

    Mr. Ripley’s Talent (1999)

    In director Anthony Minghella’s psychological thriller we find prestigious performers such as Matt Damon , Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow .

    The story concerns a young man, Tom Ripley who accepts the assignment of a father to bring home the spoiled and wealthy son who went to Italy without giving any news for some time. Everything, set in the 50s, takes place between the sea and the sun of Capri and Ischia and the night clubs of Rome and Naples .

    Curiosity

    In spring, on the occasion of the celebration of the anniversary of the foundation of the eternal city, the steps of the square are in bloom with pink azalea plants.

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