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The Spanish Steps, Rome
The Spanish Steps history
The first plans of building a staircase in front of the church, Trinità dei Monti, came from Pope Gregory XIII as early as in the late 16th century. However, the history of these steps dates back to the late 17th century. During this time, the church was under French ownership. In order to connect the church with the popular piazza below, the French ordered the construction of a massive, elegant staircase – the very one that stands today.
A design competition was held in year 1717 which was eventually won by a rather unknown architect, named Francesco de Sanctis. The construction of the staircase began soon afterwards and finished a few years later.
The steps were first given the name Trinità dei Monti, after the church and the upper piazza. Later, it was renamed to its current name after the lower piazza – Piazza di Spagna; The Spanish Square. The square itself was called the Spanish Square due to fact that the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See was located nearby.
The reason why the piazza has become one of Rome’s most popular gather places is no coincidence. Due to its beautiful and artistic surroundings, the area has always been highly appreciated by painters and poets. For example, the French Academy - where some of Frances most talented artists, writers and musicians worked - was founded nearby in the 7th century.
The artists’ presence attracted many beautiful women to the area, hoping to become chosen as an artist’s model. This in turn, attracted rich Romans and travelers, looking for a wife or a mistress. The many rich people in the area meant that many beggars soon found the place and suddenly, the steps were crowed with people with all kinds of backgrounds. This tradition, of the Spanish Steps as a meeting place, has lived on ever since.
Why visit the Spanish Steps ?
Rome’s most famous steps, the Spanish Steps, are also known as Scalinata Spagna. This beautiful place is not only one of Rome’s most popular gathering places, but the steps are also one of the longest and widest staircases in all of Europe. The steps are linking the lower Piazza di Spagna with the upper Piazza Trinità dei Monti and its magnificent church.
While the steps are the main attraction on the site, visitors to the Spanish Steps should also pay attention to the many beautiful buildings in the area. Another thing to take an extra look on is the beautiful fountain at the lower end of the stairs. This is an early baroque fountain called Fontana della Barcaccia – the Fountain of the Old Boat. It is credited Pietro Bernini; a member of the renowned artist family Bernini.
The fountain, with its characteristic form of a sinking ship, is said to be based upon a folk legend. The legend says that a fishing boat was carried away to this exact spot during the flood of the River Tiber in late 16th century. The design with the sinking boat also helped Bernini to overcome a technical problem, due to low water pressure.
By looking at the inside of the boat, one can spot two suns on either side of it. Visitors can also see a coat of arms with bees in it on the outer parts of the boat. Both the sun and the bee ornamentation is a symbol of the Bernini family and a reference to Pope Urban VIII who commissioned the work of the fountain.
A popular place
Throughout history, the Spanish Steps have been restored several times. Today, eating and drinking on the steps is strictly forbidden in order to keep the staircase clean. Already in the Renaissance period, the square was one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city and it still is to this very day.
The Spanish Steps location
The Spanish Steps are located in Rome, Italy. The steps situated in northern parts of the city, next to Piazza Trinità dei Monti. For the exact location of the Spanish Steps, check out the location map to the right.
The Spanish Steps resources
A busy site. (GFDL) Wknight94.
The Fountain of the Old Boat. (public domain)
Interactive location map. For a larger and more detailed map, check out our Italy map.
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