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Piazza Navona, the heart of the city


Piazza Navona (Circo Agonale) is built on the ancient Domiziano Stadium that was built by Domiziano in the year 86 A.D. and restored in the 4th century by Alessandro Severo. The name of the square was originally "in agone" (in greek play, race) since the stadium was only used for the athletic games and races. From there on was first pronounced nagone then navone and finally mutating in navona. The other interpretation is from the word nave (the ship) due to the shape of the square.There was a tradition from the 17th to the 19th century to flood the square with water in the hot summer months to host a parade of the equipment of the prelates and princes.

The square is a masterpiece of two of the greatest artists of the Baroque period: Borromini (St. Agnes in Agone church) and Bernini (Fontana dei Fiumi). There are three magnificent fountains: Fontana dei Fiumi was made as base for the Egyptian obelisk, moved there from Circo di Massenzio. The obelisk is based on the cliff populated by the symbolic animals; there are four statues that personify Nile, Gange, Danube and river Plate representing the continents. The two fountains on the north and the south of the square are designed by Giacomo Della Porta from 1571 to 1576 before the Bernini fountain was built in 1651. The south one had the Triton statues and masks that were moved to Villa Borghese and replaced by the replicas. Eighty years on, Borromini drew  the statue of Etiope that gave the name to the Fontana del Moro.On the north side of the square there is Calderrari fountain (The Neptune fountain) so called because nearby there were a lot of artisans that worked the copper.It lacks some of its original parts that have been replaced by the copies in the 19th century. The Church of St.Agnes was built from 8th century to 1123 and is situated in the middle of the Pamphilli block - a very long and monumental building wanted by Innocenzo X and built by Girolamo and Carlo Rainaldi towards the mid 17th century. The twin bell towers were designed by Borromini and built by Antonio del Grande and G.M. Barratta. The church was built on the site where (according o tradition) Virgin Agnes was undressed before her martyrdom and wrapped in her own hair that grew miraculously. In the basement there are traces of the primitive church and of the ancient Domizian stadium, the Roman mosaic floor and medieval frescoes. On the altar there is statue "MIracle of St Agnes hair" by Alessandro Algradi (1653). The less mentioned and known church is Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (previously the church of San Giacomo of the Spaniards or Santiago Idelfonso in Circo Agonale or in Agonis) that was the National church of the Castilian. It was probably established in 1450 during the pontificate of Callisto the third Borgia (1455-1458) by the bishop Alfonso Paradinas (died in 1485) whose name is on the marble portal. The facade was on the old Via Sapienza (corso Rinascimento) and the apse on Piazza Navona. The portal built by Paradinas represents one of the first and the purest expressions of the Florentine Renaissance style in Rome.Both architecture and decoration were damaged by the aging of the building: in the 8th century the decline of Spain impended the maintenance of this church. In 1879 it was given to the French priests that had it restored by the architect Luca Carmini. He made the neo-Gothic vault and remade the facade inverting the two portals. In 1881the church was reconsecrated with the present nave.The internal frescoes are by Poletti. The further damage was done by opening of Corso Rinascimento in 1930. It was necessary to shorten the nave eliminating the first aisles. The new facade was then created inserted in the prospectus of the convent type, with the superior lodge by Arnaldo Foschini.

Interesting Facts


Piazza Navona is not only home of great architecture and magnificent art but as well of legends and ghosts. One of the legends is about a witch that rides around at night on her cart pulled by the screeching horses, damning the couples in love. There  is a saying that if you walk towards the right of the square (anti clockwise) with your husband or fiancé he is going to leave you within six days. The other legend is the one of "Pimpaccia" - Donna Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphillj (so nicknamed by Pasquino: Pimpa wasa Roman mask) sister in law of Innocenzo X. She was a very charismatic and emancipated lady for her times but very greedy, mean and despised by others. The legend has it that she was riding in a black, burning carriage , packed with treasure and pulled by mad horses. After running around the square they jump into Tiber while screeching and shouting. Finally, in the best Roman tradition, where sacred mixes with profane Piazza Navona hosts the Christmas market from the 8th of December to the 6th of January where Romans can by their gifts and sweets.



Palazzo Braschi (south closes the square)

of the late eighteenth century, built on the site of the palace built by Francesdco Orsini, prefect of Rome in 400.


Palazzo Lancellotti, already de Torres

(to the south close the square, between Palazzo Braschi Palazzo Lancellotti and now there is Cuccagna street) built around l552 by Pirro Ligorio.


Palazzo Pamphili (side S.Agnese Church)

built between 1644 and 1650 by Girolamo Rainaldi.


Palazzo Tuccimei (next to the Palazzo Pamphili)

formerly the palace of Cupis-Ornani built in the second half of the sixteenth century of a building and the neighboring houses of the previous century.


Casa Razzanti (now the French cultural center)

the current building dates from the eighteenth century, remodeled in the nineteenth, 1973, owned by the French state property.


Ospizio dei Convalescenti e Pellegrini

in 1600, the house was owned by the Marquis Onorati, was sold in 1836 to the confraternity of SS. Trinity of the Pilgrims and later went to the hospital of Santo Spirito. In the palace stands the house "Navona in Fiore" and the Tobacco store Flli Benincampi.


Palazzo dei Marchesi di Cornovaglia

Later Scaretti / Sacchi.

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