|Europe » Italy » Rome »|
Piazza del Popolo, Rome
Piazza del Popolo history
Piazza del Popolo has a long and interesting history. This square has gotten its name from one of the square’s churches - the Santa Maria Del Popolo. The name of the square literally means “the Peoples Square” in modern Italian, but the name originally derives from the word “populous”. It is the Latin name for a type tree which is believed to have been growing at the site of the church before its construction.
An important square
This square has always been one of Rome’s most important ones. This was the starting point for the vital northbound route, which connected Rome with the northern coastline. This meant that the square was the first or last thing that met travelers entering or leaving Rome from the north.
However, during Roman times, this square did not feature the many beautiful monuments one can see today. For centuries, the square was dominated by a public fountain, which served as a horse trough and a cistern for washerwomen. The square was also smaller than the one of today. However, over the course of history, the square has been expanded several times.
Why visit Piazza del Popolo ?
Porta del Popolo
Today, the square is stacked with interesting structures. One of the oldest parts of the Piazza del Popolo is the main gate. Since antiquity, the northern entrance has welcome travelers to the city.
It has been known by several names throughout its history. The original name is Porta Flaminia, which some even call it today. It has also been known as Porta San Valentino from a nearby catacomb, but it’s officially known as Porta del Popolo.
The beautiful gate of today was built in the 16th century, on order of Pope Pius the 4th. It later became subject to restorations prior to the arrival of the Swedish Queen Christina in the 17th century. This work was carried out by the famous Italian artist Bernini.
One part of the restoration included the adding of a plaque above the arch; a plaque which one can still see today. Its inscription reads; “For a Happy and Propitious Entrance, year 1655” referring to the visit of the Queen Christina who entered Rome through this very gate. Her entrance obviously was “happy and propitious” as she never left Rome again.
Santa Maria Del Popolo
Another stunning piece on Piazza del Popolo is the church to the north, known as Santa Maria Del Popolo. It is the oldest of the square’s three churches and was built during the late 11th century. According to the legend, the ghost of Emperor Nero used to haunt this site.
There used to be an old belief that this long gone emperor one day would return from the dead. In order to calm the citizens, trees sheltering several black crows were cut down and instead a church was built in its. This church was later reconstructed and enlarged in the 15th century; the result of which one can see today.
The modern Piazza del Popolo is centered by a large obelisk. This is actually an authentic Egyptian obelisk, originally belonging to Ramesses II. The obelisk was taken from the Sun Temple in Heliopolis and brought to Rome in year 10 BC. The obelisk was first erected at Circus Maximus, to commemorate the conquest of Egypt.
However, like many other obelisks, it became relocated in the 16th century during the Papal urban renewal. The 24 meters tall obelisk is the second oldest and one of the tallest of all obelisks in Rome. The fountain surrounding it, Fontana dell' Obelisco, was constructed in the 19th century and is dominated by four Egyptian-style lions.
The twin churches
Behind the obelisk stand the two twin churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto. These two churches were both built during the mid 17th century. A closer inspection of these baroque styled masterpieces will reveal that they are not mere copies of one another, but actually vary in their details.
The square itself saw a major modernization during the Napoleonic epoch. Over a period of 8 years, the outer buildings of the square was swept away to make it larger as well as to give it the elliptical shape of today. The two smaller fountains on the sides, the one of Neptune and the one of the Goddess Roma, were both added.
The Roman architect responsible for the reconstruction, Valadier, also made the square accessible from all sides. He also connected the square with the Pincian Hill to the east, which many regard as a brilliant move.
Until quite recently, Piazza del Popolo was crammed with car traffic. Luckily for you and I, it has since then been made into a pedestrian zone. This made an already popular square even more popular.
Piazza del Popolo location
Piazza del Popolo resources
The Piazza. (GFDL) Jean-Christophe BENOIST.
Piazza del Popolo from the Pincian Hill. (public domain)
Interactive location map. For a larger and more detailed map, check out our Italy map.
Do You like Piazza del Popolo?
Click below to download your Piazza del Popolo audio guide.
(If your broswer won't download the guide, right-click the botton and choose "save target as..")
|Europe » Italy » Rome »|