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Piazza Navona: A Square Rich in History, Art, and Culture

Situated in the heart of Rome, the Piazza Navona is one of the city's most celebrated public spaces. Known for its stunning Baroque art, lively atmosphere, and historical significance, it offers a window into Rome's rich past. From an ancient stadium to a hub of modern social life, Piazza Navona's history is a tapestry of culture, politics, and human creativity.

You can hear more Rome stories with Gesso’s self-guided audio walking tours, which you can experience at your own pace.

outdoor piazza in rome, italy

Piazza Navona's history dates back to the 1st century CE, when Emperor Domitian built a stadium, known as "Stadium of Domitian," on this site. The stadium, intended for athletic competitions, could accommodate up to 30,000 spectators. Its elongated shape, with rounded ends, is still reflected in the current outline of the piazza.

Over time, the stadium fell into disuse, and buildings were erected over its ruins. During the Middle Ages, the area became a marketplace and a gathering spot, slowly transforming into a public square. The name "Navona" is believed to be derived from "in agone," referring to the games held in the ancient stadium.

In the 17th century, Piazza Navona underwent significant changes under the patronage of Pope Innocent X, a member of the prominent Pamphili family. He commissioned the construction of the Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone and the Fountain of the Four Rivers, both designed by the renowned architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The Fountain of the Four Rivers, with its towering obelisk and grand sculptures representing the Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Río de la Plata, quickly became the centerpiece of the square.

Throughout history, Piazza Navona has been a magnet for artists, writers, and intellectuals. It has been depicted in paintings, novels, and films, often symbolizing the spirit of Rome itself. The square has also hosted traditional events, such as the Feast of the Epiphany, where vendors and performers would fill the piazza, creating a carnival-like atmosphere. This rich social tradition continues today, with street artists, musicians, and cafes contributing to the lively ambiance.

Discover more local history with our Italy audio walking tours, and see where in Rome you want to explore next.


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