The one thing I really love about traveling around the world is being able to combine the history of the cities, counties and the people with how they were and how their are today.
Over the centuries Rome has had the ability of reforming, or reusing, many of its sites and building for different uses, so it is with Piazza Navona. Located north of the Rome Forum and just a couple of street west of the Pantheon, Piazza Navona is one of the most spectacular and famous of the many squares in Rome today.
As you enter this Piazza from one of the small streets that encircle it you’re exposed to the many different colors of the building that surround it. Piazza Navona is one Rome’s liveliest areas with its many shops, outdoor cafes, restaurants, and night clubs. The Piazza also features three outstanding fountains and the magnificent Baroque church of Sant’Agnese in Agone.
The most impressive of the three fountains is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) at the squares center. Commissioned at the request of pope Innocent X, this fountain was constructed between 1647 and 1651. Designed by Berini this fountain features four figures that are reprehensive of the rivers Nile, Ganges, Danube, and the Rio de la Plata. The four statues circle a rock that supports an Egyptian obelisk which once stood on the spina of the Circus Maxentius.
The other two fountains are the Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune fountain) at the north end of the piazza and the Fontana del Moro (Moor fountain) at the south end.
At the center, across from the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi is the church Sant’Agnese in Agone. This church was also a commission of pope Innocent X. The façade of this beautiful church was designed by Boromini, the Fountain of the Four Rivers designer’s ravel. The church was completed in 1670.
As you walk around this spacious piazza you’ll wonder how, in the very crowded city of Rome, that they were able to build such a larger square. And you’ll also notice that the south end is slightly curved. This is because before this was a piazza it was an ancient Rome Circus.
Built by the Rome Emperor Domitian in 86 AD, this stadium had a larger arena than the Colosseum, which opened six years earlier. First named the Stadium of Domitian, after the emperor, it was later changed to the Circus Agonalis (competition arena). As with most Roman circuses this one was used mainly for races, sporting and festivals.
Over time the stadium began to be called ‘in agon,’ then ‘novne,’ and finally ‘navona.’ Sometime in the fifteenth century the abandoned arena was paved over to create the present square. Still today you can see remnants of the old circus. There are guided tours that take you underground to view the circuses ancient foundations.