The old papal buildings have altered little over the centuries, but still act as an open-air hub for cafés and street entertainers.
Considered one of Rome’s most accomplished displays of baroque architecture, this fine square gained its facades in the mid-17th century under Pope Innocent X, who employed artists like Bernini, Borromini and Rainaldi to transform this square into a showcase of Rome’s great artistry.
Rainaldi built the Palazzo Pamphilj, the new home of the pope, but it is now home to the Brazilian Embassy. The building that dominates the square is the Church of Sant'Agnese in Agone, dedicated to the young martyr who is believed to have died on this spot. Famed for its domed ceiling (covered with the sumptuous murals of Ciro Ferri and Sebastiano Corbellini) and its shrine of St. Agnes (with her skull encased in a bejeweled box), there are expert, if expensive, guided tours of the church available on a regular basis.
Walk into the center of Piazza Navona and you’ll be rewarded with the spectacular Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), a design of Bernini’s that depicts four river gods at the base, from which sprouts the sizable Obelisk of Domitian, not dissimilar to the Egyptian monument in Piazza San Pietro. You may recognize this fountain from the hit movie Angels & Demons, based on the Dan Brown novel. At opposite ends of the Piazza are two more water features, Giacomo Della Porta’s Fontana del Moro, with its distinct rose-colored marble base, and the Fontana del Nettuno, portraying the god of the sea wrestling with an octopus. There’s perhaps no other square in the world that uses water so artistically.
Piazza Navona offers the perfect place for a quiet stop during any visit to Rome. Not only are there many cafés and restaurants, so you can reward your walk with espresso and a tartufo (an Italian ice-cream dessert) from the superb Tre Scalini, but the scores of street artists, musicians and performers ensures there isn’t a dull moment. Grand and ancient, yet brimming with life, that’s Piazza Navona.
Piazza Navona is in central Rome, less than 15 minutes’ walk from the Trevi Fountain, making these two sights an ideal duet. You can take a Metro/bus combination to get there.