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Rome's Piazza Navona - An Introduction

Jun 8, 2008
Rome is perfect for outdoor activities. Of course, the wonderful indoor activities in Rome such as the museums, theaters, churches and cafes are not to be missed. But Rome truly is at its best when you view it from those wonderful piazzas all over town.

In Italian, the word "piazza" means public square. Rome's piazzas are distinctive from other famous international cities because in every way public squares are where citizens and tourists alike gather to admire a wide variety of outdoor art.

Probably the finest location of Bernini's "Fountain of the Four Rivers" can be found at Navona. Four striking sculptures that Bernini's students executed are artistically arranged around a rocky mass at the center of the fountain which holds up an obelisk. One of those stunning sculptures named "the Ganges" was created by Claude Poussin who went on to become a well known master as well.

The Fountain of the Four Rivers is a classic Roman fountain that seems alive with a rich diversity of life from a cactus to palm trees to sea monsters and dozens of wonderful pieces all mixed together artfully around the unifying column in the middle.

This fountain was so ambitious that to fund it, the Roman government levied a tax on bread. Naturally this led to a tremendous outcry from the citizens of Rome at the time, from the lowest to the highest echelons of society. That trivia has now become a wonderful part of the rich history of the Bernini fountain and a great story to tell while enjoying a coffee with a friend, or to reflect upon while relaxing and watching the city bustle to and fro.

Just across the piazza is another magnificent fountain that has the sea god Triton riding a dolphin as its centerpiece. The "Fountain of the Moor" is a great place to relax and take in the activity in the public square, catch some warm sun on your face or discuss with your travel mates what site to see next in the Piazza Navona. The piazza is full of things to see, do and taste that will enhance your experience just as much as the wonderful and artistic fountains outdoors.

Along the rows of cafe's, restaurants and shops in the piazza, you will find dozens of stalls where merchants offer their wares and services. Here you can stop and have your portrait skilfully sketched by the many artists who populate this public gathering place.

There is no shortage of nightlife that continues non-stop until the sun comes up. At any time you might encounter a mime, a beggar, an artist as well as throngs of tourists and Roman natives all enjoying the oval plaza together. The piazza is ideal for such public life because it was built around what is called an ancient circus. This is not a lively animal show but an intersection of many streets in one circular area.

Don't miss out on the luxurious taste of a Tartufo at Tre Scalini. And you don't want to miss the ambiance at Rome's oldest existing bar, the Caffe della Pace. This is a great place to savor a Campari and some fine conversation and atmosphere. What a perfect way to prepare for a reverent visit to the Church of Sant'Agnese, just a short walk from the three famous Bernini fountains of the piazza.

The Fountain of Neptune, also known as the "Fontana dei Calderai" (translated: Fountain of the Coppersmiths) is another great artwork here for your viewing pleasure. This classic sculpture of the god of the sea Neptune killing an octopus is abundant with sea creatures such as Nereid (or sea nymphs), dolphins and sea horses. The Fountain of Neptune takes the sea creature theme of the piazza to the next level. And the rose marble that was used to create this artwork is also what was used for the doorjambs at St. Peter's.

For the music lover, a short walk away is a great spot for some classical music often performed at the Piazza Sant'Eustchio. Or from here you can easily find a bus that will take you to the Pantheon for some sightseeing.

However your day is organized, don't miss out on enjoying one of the most famous public squares in Rome. Enjoy the fun and beauty even if that public square is in fact round.
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