In the list of things to do in Rome, a walk through the squares of the city cannot be missing. Roman squares are in most cases small or big treasure of art and architecture, but they are also symbols of Italian and Roman lifestyle.
In this article we are going to look at some of the most beautiful, absolutley unmissble squares in the city, each of them with its own story and unique atmosphere.
Metro: Spagna, line A (look up the position)| Come here to: be amazed by its beauty and unique vibe.
Piazza Navona is undoubtedly one of the most famous baroque squares in Rome and, for me, one of the most beautiful places in the whole city. Its unusual shape makes it unqiue: an ellipse at the center of which stands the wonderful Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers).
This unusual shape reflects the history of this square and, by extention, of the city itself.
Long before becoming one of the Roman Baroque masterpieces together with the Trevi Fountain, this place had been chosen by emperor Domitian to build his stadium, the Circus Agonalis.
The remains of this stadium are still visible today from the nearby square of Tor Sanguigna square or through guided tours that take you back to the original level of the ground more than 4 meters below the current one.
Let’s skip ahead a few centuries to the 17th century when pope Innocenzo X Pamphili chose this place to build a palace for himself and hired the best two architect of the time to work on the square infront of it. Francesco Borromini built the church of Saint Agnese in Agonis, and Gian Lorenzo Bernini created the wonderful Fontana dei Fiumi.
Bernini’s masterpiece is free to be admired at any time of the day and night.
The obelisk towering on the fountain rests on a fake rock base in the shape of an arch. Carved on this base you’ll see a horse in the center and four sculptures on the sides representing four rivers, once for each of continents known at the time: Africa with the Nile, the Rio della Plata for the two Americas, the Danube for Europe and the Ganges for Asia (Australia was yet to be discovered).
Fun fact: for some time pope Innocenzo X had the square flooded and turned into a lake for Romans to cool off and have fun during hot, August weekends. Not a bad idea for a world without air conditioning 🙂
Today’s Piazza Navona, nice and dry, is populated during day time by street artists, musicians and of course tourists. If you can, I recommend you come here at sunset, to see all the buildings turning pink.
If you happen to come here during Christmas time, you’ll find the square beautifully illlmuniated and livened up by a colourful Christmas market.
Of course there are lots of places here to eat and drink but if you are looking for something truly picturesque, I recommend Terrazza Borromini: one of the most beautiful restaurants in Piazza Navona, ideal for breakfast or a romantic aperitivo with a breath-taking view over the square.
Feel like you have something to complain about? You’re in the right place: right off Navona Square you’ll see Pasquino, a sculpture dating to the third century BC and the first of Rome’s talking sculptures, used by Roman citizens to collect anonymous messages of criticism and complaints about the city and the government. This funny tradition sticked to this day and you can still read some interesting message attached to te base of the sculpture 🙂
Piazza di Spagna
Metro: Spagna, line A (look up the position) | Come here for: its art and luxury
This unparalleled masterpiece of Baroque architecture opens up at the end of the luxurious Via Condotti and is dominated by the Barcaccia fountain and by the majestic Spanish Steps.
The gorgeous boat-shaped fountain -another one of Bernini’s masterpieces- is dedicated to the legend of an actual boat that was once found on this spot after a flood of Tiber river.
The monumental Spanish Steps were built in 1725 by architect Francesco De Santcis to connect the church of Trinità dei Monti -located at the top- to the Spanish Embassy on the square. It’s hard to imagine but before that there was only a steep hill here and nothing else.
Climbing up the 136 steps is certainly tiring but once you get to the top you’ll be rewarded with an incredible view especially in the early morning and with a clear, blu sky.
The best time of the year to visit Spagna square is spring, when the Steps are beautifully decorated with asaleas.
The Spanish Steps have always been used not only as a passageway but also as a place for chilling and admiring the view. But today there is a law that prohibits sitting down on the steps and and/or consuming food.
But that doesn’t mean, of course, that you should go hungry. There’s quite a few restaurants near Spagna Square. My absolute favorite is caffè Colbert: located inside the gorgeaus Villa Medici it offers high quality food and unforgettable location and view. Highly recommended!
Metro: Colosseo, linea B (vedi posizione) | Come here to: find a connection between the past and the present
This might not be one of the most famous squares in Rome but I guarantee it will deifnitley be one of the most impressive you’ll see.
Mostly because it’s dominated by the majestic monument to first king of united Italy Vittorio Emanuele II: Mole del Vittoriano. It built in the late nineteenth century as a symbol of Italian unification (Risorgimento) and national unity. Also called Altare della Patria, after the First World War it was chosen to house the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in honor of all those killed in the war.
Piazza Venezia is also important because of its central position: at the intersection of some of the main central streets and right near places of interest like the Capitoline Hill (Campidoglio in Italian) and the Colosseum.
Beside some more modern buildings like Palazzo delle Assicurazioni Generali, this square features the historical Palazzo Venezia: a fifteenth-century building house to a museum and archeology and art history library but moslty famouse for having been the location for Benito Mussolini’s public speeches.
Another noteworthy building featuring on Piazza Venezia is Palazzo Bonaparte, easily recognizible for its unusual green balcony. This is the place where Napoleone’s mother lived and died.
In addition to its immense history, this square is a fundamental hub in the city road network and is also an excellent place to find buses and taxis to reach all areas of the city.
Try not to get swallowed up in Roman traffic and enjoy the sunset, when the city becomes ever more beautiful.
Piazza del popolo
Metro: Flaminio, line A (vedi posizione) | come here for: an unforgettable sunset
This square is located at the meeting point of three streets: via del Corso (northen end) via Ripetta and via del Babbuino which create a big intersection commonly known as Tridente.
Today’s elliptical shape of the square dates to Napoleon’s era when architect Giuseppe Valadier was assigned the task of rearranging its layout. Keeping the Chiese Gemelle (Twin Churches) and the church of Santa Maria del Popolo as reference points on the sides and the large obelisk in the center, the architect worked on the slopes of the Pincian Hill and created the famous, panoramic terrace, to this day the favorite place for those in search of a romantic atmosphere.
Part of the square is enclosed by the ancient city walls (Aurelian Walls) opening up at Porta del Popolo: an ancient entrance gate to the city and another wonderful work by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
On one side of the gate you’ll find the entrance to the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, a truly precious hidden gem, home to the beautiful Cerasi and Chigi chapels. Here you’ll be able to admire, respectively two works by Caravaggio and a pyramid-shaped tomb created by Raphael and surrounded by Bernini.
For fans of the mystery- thriller genre: this is the church where the hunt for symbols begins in Dan Brown’s bestseller book (and film) Angels and Demons.
For a spectacular view, wait for sunset on the Terrazza del Pincio.
If you want to splash out on a very special Roman dinner, you should consider Casina Valedier: the architect’s old house, now a fine dining restuarant.
Campo dei Fiori
Metro: Spagna, line A (vedi posizione) | Come here to: see the square change its face from day night
Campo dei Fiori is made special by its two souls: at daytime its a lively, colourful market square. Peoople come to here to by flowers, fruit, vegetables and traditional food like the delicious white pizza and other tasty baked goods freshly served everyday at the hisorical bakery Forno di Campo de’ Fiori.
At night the square turns into a vibrant cluster of bars and nightclubs popular among young locals and tourists. Come here for a Spritz and maybe a game of beerpong with some pub crawling students 🙂
Campo dei Fiori is also a place full of history dating to the 15th century and since then it’s been the scene of some important historical events. The statue at the centre of the square represents the Dominican frier and philosopher Giordano Bruno, found guilty of heresy and burned at the stake on this square in 1600.
If you’re visiting Campo dei Fiori around lunch or dinner time and you want a proper sit down meal, you have at least two excellent options: Ilsanlorenzo is one of the best but rather expensive fish restaurnt in the city. For something cheaper and a more laid back atmosphere I reccomend Open Baladin: a nicely decorated gastro pub with an extensive craft beers menù and some of the best burgers in town. Try their signature homemade potato chips with garlic and pecorino cheese.
Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere
Tram: linea 3 (vedi posizione) | Come here to: discover the true heart of the city
Trastevere is one of the most characteristic and pictoresque neighborhoods in Rome: a maze of narrow streets and alleys surrounding the beautiful square of Santa Maria in Trastevere.
The square is named after the church featuring here, a treasure from medieval time and the first building entirely dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Beside a majestic bell tower, this church boasts a wonderful mosaic decoration by the artist Pietro Cavallini dating back to the thirteenth century.
The square of Santa Maria in Trastevere is also famous for featuring, right in the centre, what’s believed to be the oldest public fountain in Rome.
More then anywhere else here you can experience a truly Roman atmosphere, especially in the late afternoon when the neighborhood comes alive with people filling the many bars and restaurants.
Piazza di Pietra
Metro: Spagna, line A (vedi posizione) | Come here to: see a truly exeptional, hybrid budiling.
Piazza di Pietra (Square of Stone) it’s a truy unique place right in the heart of the historical centre. It owes its name to the 11 columns dominating the space: the remains of a temple to Emperor Hadrian built in 144 AD.
Today the columnade is incorporated in a 18th century building former home to the Chamber of Commerce and the Stock Exchange. The result is something very special and hard to definy: a 18th century building with a Roman temple on the outside or a Roman temple with a 18th century building inside? Let us know what you think 🙂
Piazza di Pietra is a stone’s throw from Via del Corso and the Pantheon. On the square it self there’s quite a few bars and restaurants if you happen to be here at best time of the day: lunch, dinner or aperitivo!
Piazza San Pietro
Metro: Ottaviano, linea A (vedi posizione) | Come here for: art, beauty and spirituality
Last but not least, there’s of course St. Peter’s Square, the most famous square in Rome … or actually in Vatican City! Because yes, once you enter this square you are no longer on Italian territory.
The square, however, is tighly linked to the history of Rome and represents one of the highest examples of Baroque architecturein the city. Built in the seventeenth century by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, it’s home to one of the most sacred places for Christianity, the Basilica of San Pietro.
Piazza San Pietro is a large ellipse enclosed by a scenographic colonnade representing two arms embracing worshippers as they approach the church.
If you are coming here for religious purposes Sunday morning is certainly the best time for you to visit San Pietro.
But if you just want to enjoy the beauty of this place, I suggest you come here at early morning on a week day to feel like you have the grandeur of San Pietro almost all to youself.