29 August 2011

The Piazzas of Rome

Who would have thought that Rome's piazzas would prove to be such a wonderful collection of hidden surprises.  Be it ancient buildings, artists selling their work or more steps for my daughter to gleefully climb, the piazzas and the ancient buildings create much of Rome's atmosphere.

Whilst there are dozens and dozens of piazzas, there are a handful of them that are just spectacular for what they have to offer. 

Piazza Navona

Filled with artists, fountains and cafes, Piazza Navona is my favorite.  Originally built as a stadium in 86BC for athletic contests and chariot races, between 17th and 19th century it was often flooded in the summer for water sports or to create mock naval battles.

Today Navona has three opulent fountains and a splendid church.  The central fountain, considered as the most complex fountain in all of Rome, is known as the Four Rivers.  Designed by the great 17th century artist Bernini, the four rivers are meant to represent the Danube, the Nile, the Ganges and Rio de la Plata. 

The remaining two fountains (Fontana del Moro and Fontana del Nettuno) were designed by Bernini's student Giacomo della Porta.  Each fountain lavish in its design is indicative of the period when Baroque architecture, music and art dominated.

Piazza Navona with Fontana del Moro in the foreground.
Sant'Angese in Agone Church
One of four Tritons, Fontana del Moro
Four Rivers Fountain
Paintings in the Piazza
Wild horses painting 

Whilst a visual feast the best part of Navona was the one day I spent there with my siblings, Annie & Alex.  Annie flew in from Australia, Alex from Romania and myself from Singapore and for the first time in 25 years we were holidaying together in a foreign country.  It may have taken us a while but here we were finally and it was absolutely, definitely awesome.

Maybe not be the best photo but it is all we have
and it is forever printed in my memory.
Melting three hours at Caffe Barocco was a breeze.  Admittedly we were drawn to the 15 euro lunch that consisted of bruschetta, pizza or pasta and sparkling water or glass of red wine.  No service charge was particularly attractive since that tends to get quite pricey in Rome.  What we didn't anticipate was our most personable and friendly waiter called Gianluca.  We were so impressed with him and the experience we had at the cafe that we returned another couple of times.

Silv, Trinity, Gianluca & Annie

Piazza del Popolo

This extraordinarily large piazza is surrounded by a wall, with fountains in the centre and the sides.  The central fountain surrounds an obelisk and each corner has an Egyptian lion statue spouting water into the fountain.  The obelisk, originally built in 1300BC is of Egyptian origin and commemorates the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30BC.  It stands at 23m high.

The north side is flanked by Porta del Popolo, a large gate built in the 16th century to impress the pilgrims who entered through it, whilst two symmetrical churches reside on the south side.  The two churches flank a major street (Via del Corso) that leads directly into the heart of Rome and straight into Piazza Venezia.

East: Rome between the Tiber and the Aniene Fountain
West: Fontana del Nettuno
Centre: Obelisk taken from the Sun Temple in Heliopilis, Egypt
in 10BC by Roman Emperor Augustus
North: Porta del Popolo commissioned by Pope Pius IV in 1562
South: L: Santa Maria dei Miracoli Church, C: Via del Corso and
R: Santa Maria in Montesanto Church

Piazza di Spagna

The glamorous shopping strip of Via Condotti, where the likes of Valentino, Gucci & Prada reside, terminates at the beautiful Piazza di Spagna (aka Spanish Steps).  A meeting point for both locals and tourists, the piazza whilst small, begins with a fountain in the shape of a boat where fresh drinking water can be had, followed by an elegant staircase that connects with Trinita dei Monti, a French church located on the hill. 

Commencing construction in 1502, the church took decades to complete and was finally consecrated in 1585.  Although the art and decoration was plundered during Napoleon's occupation (between 1804-1815), the church was eventually restored by Louis XVIII in 1816.  A lovely collection of frescoes occupy the interior of the church painted by several well-known Italian artists.

The piazza bestows the visitor with a lovely view of Rome, artists, street sellers and horse and carriage rides.

Triniti dei Monti on the hill led to via the 137 steps staircase
Piazza di Spagna and Via Condotti seen from the first landing
of the Spanish Steps.
Frescoes inside Trinita dei Monti
Artist at work
Rooftops from the top of the Spanish Steps

Piazza della Rotonda

Typically very busy it is of no surprise when the main attraction in this small piazza is the Pantheon.  A remarkable ancient building that stood the test of time in its survival.  Having not planned to see the Pantheon, I was delighted when I chanced upon it.  The interior is absolutely breathtaking and a must see when in Rome.

Built in 27BC, the Pantheon was commissioned as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome.  It was then converted into a church in 609AD and a tomb during the Renaissance period burying renown figures such as the painter Raphael, composer Corelli, architect Peruzzi and two Kings.  Today it is a major tourist attraction with the occasional usage for Catholic masses and weddings.

The Piazza itself was threatened with destruction during Napoleon's era, thankfully, the short reign of the French saved it from demolition.  Interestingly the fountain in the centre of the piazza is reached by five steps from one side and two steps on the other.  This is largely due to the slope of the piazza. 

One of four masks flanked by dolphins make up the corners
of the Fontana del Pantheon
The Pantheon, fountain and obelisk

The grand entrance of the Pantheon

Interior of the Pantheon

The altar within the Pantheon
Whilst the Italian trip is now over and am due to leave for Australia soon, the memories of my trip are still very fresh and a few more blogs regarding this holiday are forthcoming in the near future.