Monuments of Rome - Piazza Navona
It is the most characteristic square in the city; the whole district where it is located, with its narrow streets and dark alleys, its closed buildings testify to a past world and a glorious tradition full of charm. The history of the square dates back to ancient Rome. On this area stood Emperor Domitian's vast circus, on the steps of which the houses surrounding today's square are built. Mock naval battles, grandiose public spectacles, jousts, etc. took place here.
Later, although the complex had fallen into disrepair until it disappeared, the people continued to entertain on the site. In the Middle Ages, popular festivities continued to take place here. Even in the 19th century, wandering comedians with their antics entertained the people here, who, on Sundays and feast days in August, would spend long periods of time splashing about in the water overflowing from the fountains, much to the amusement of the cardinals and the rich, who threw money from their cars to add to the people's merriment. Today, the large Christmas market remains, recalling the square's past. The present form of the rectangular square, with its fountains, the church of St Agnes, the Pamphilj Palace and the rented houses surrounding it, was already built between 1600 and 1700. Since those times almost nothing has been changed and in this fact lies the secret that characterises it. Pope Innocent X began the redevelopment of the Piazza, until then dirty and neglected, with the reconstruction of Palazzo Pamphilj, which he ordered from Girolamo Rainaldi. The grandiose palace with its simple mass immediately gave the whole environment a distinct character on which the other buildings were later based. The interior is remarkable for the decoration of the hall with frescoes by Pietro da Cortona, a renowned Florentine artist. The pope also had the church of St Agnes erected on the site where the saint suffered martyrdom. Already in the Middle Ages, a first church had been erected here on the walls of the Circus. The remains of this can be seen under today's church. The church is the work of Borromini (1645-50). The artist was particularly criticised and mocked for the Baroque swaying of the façade, the lightness of the towers and dome, and the boldly new conception of the whole. The most merciless of critics was his eternal rival Bernini . The artist, suffering and weak of nerves, was so distressed by the incessant criticism that he ended up committing suicide. The interior of the church is by Carlo Rainaldi, richly decorated in accordance with the Baroque spirit. The founding Pope Innocent X is buried here. When the square was completed, the pontiff continued to embellish it with the construction of two fountains. One of these, a masterpiece by Bernini, is the central Rivers Fountain . On the group of cliffs sit the giants symbolising the rivers of the four continents: the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube and the Rio de la Plata. At the top rises the obelisk of Domitian . The other, in front of the Pamphilj Palace, is the Moor Fountain . The third fountain on the other side of the square is a recent work from the 19th century. Today, the square is surrounded by characteristic cafés and wine bars. In the centre of the square, painters exhibit their works, and Romans, young and old, come to stroll around, creating an indissoluble harmony between art, history and real life.