The location, size, and shape of Piazza Navona was dictated by the site’s earlier structure, the Stadium of Domitian (dedicated in 86 AD). The Stadium was Rome’s first permanent venue for competitive athletics. It was patterned after the Greek model and seated approximately 15,000 – 20,000 – a smaller, more appropriate venue for foot-races than the Circus Maximus. The Stadium was used almost entirely for athletic contests. For a few years, following fire-damage to the Colosseum in 217 AD, it was used for gladiator shows. Saint Agnes was martyred near one of the arcades around the Stadium in 304.
The Piazza Navona sits over the interior arena of the Stadium. The sweep of buildings that embrace the Piazza incorporate the Stadium’s original lower arcades. They include the most recent rebuilding of the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, first founded in the ninth century at the traditional place of St. Agnes’ martyrdom.
Piazza Navona was defined as a public space in the last years of 15th century. It features important sculptural and architectural creations. In the center stands the famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers (1651) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, topped by the Obelisk of Domitian. There is another fountain at the north end of the piazza, Fontana del Nettuno, or The Fountain of Neptune (1574) and at the south end is Fontana del Moro, or The Moor Fountain (1575 with additions in 1653). The church of Sant’Agnese in Agone is centrally located on the west side.
Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi and the Obelisk of Domitian
This fountain was designed in 1651 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The base of the fountain is a basin from the center of which travertine rocks rise to support four river gods and above them, an ancient Egyptian obelisk surmounted with the Pamphili family emblem of a dove with an olive twig. Collectively, they represent four major rivers of the four continents through which papal authority had spread: the Nile representing Africa, the Danube representing Europe, the Ganges representing Asia, and the Río de la Plata representing the Americas. At the time the fountain was designed, these were the longest rivers known; however, two of them have been superseded. The Amazon is the longest river in the Americas and The Yangtze in Asia.
Fontana del Nettuno
This fountain was once called “Fontana dei Calderari” because it was located close to a small alley with blacksmith’s workshops, makers of pots and pans and of other metal based businesses, all of them generating heat. The basin of the Fontana del Nettuno, (without the sculptures) was designed in 1574 by Giacomo Della Porta, who was also responsible for the Moor Fountain at the other end of the square. The fountain as it exists today was finally completed in 1878 by Antonio della Bitta, who added the imposing sculpture of “Neptune fighting with an octopus”, and Gregorio Zappalà, who created the other sculptures, based on the mythological theme of the “Nereids with cupids and walruses”.
Fontana del Moro
This fountain represents a Moor, or African (perhaps originally meant to be Neptune), standing in a conch shell, wrestling with a dolphin, surrounded by four Tritons. It is placed in a basin of rose-colored marble. The fountain was originally designed by Giacomo della Porta in 1575 with the dolphin and four Tritons. In 1653, the statue of the Moor, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, was added.
Sant’Agnese in Agone (also called Sant’Agnese in Piazza Navona) is a 17th-century Baroque church. It is on the site where the Early Christian Saint Agnes was martyred in the ancient Stadium of Domitian. According to tradition, Agnes was a member of the Roman nobility born in AD 291 and raised in a Christian family. She suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve or thirteen in the year 304. Construction of this church began in 1652.
Other Views Around the Piazza
The inscriptions “advocata nostra, ora pro nobis” translate to “Our Advocate, Pray for us.”
Here we are at the end of our visit to the Piazza. Evan, our Tour Director, is counting heads to make sure we are all present before moving on. For some reason, the count didn’t come out right. Did I count you once or twice? Oh, the interesting things you can capture when trying to blend multiple exposures into a single panoramic image. Can’t you stand still for a minute, John? 🙂
Details from WikiPedia.
Today was a great start for our visit to Rome.