Piazza Navona is situated in the heart of Rome and is a popular gathering place for both locals and tourists alike. In the evenings, the square is often filled with people enjoying a meal or a drink at one of the many cafes and restaurants that surround it. The square is also a popular spot for musicians and street performers making it an interesting place to experience the city. It’s no surprise that people enjoy spending time here. Piazza Navona is strikingly beautiful with a long history and plenty of things to do. Here are 12 interesting facts about Piazza Navona that you may or may not know.

The Shape of Piazza Navona Creates an Illusion

Piazza Navona is one of the most beautiful and historic squares in Rome. The stunning baroque architecture found in the square and the surrounding facades provide visitors with a quintessentially Rome experience. One of the most notable features is its unique oval shape. This was done intentionally by the designers to create an illusion of movement and energy.

It Was Designed for Chariot Races

One of the most interesting facts about Piazza Navona takes us back centuries to its days of origin. Piazza Navona was originally built in the 1st century AD, under the orders of Emperor Domitian. The large open space was designed to host chariot races and other public events.

Over time, the square has undergone several changes, but its basic layout has remained the same. For example, the paving you see today when you visit Piazza Navona wasn’t added until the 15th century. While that seems very old to you and I, it is actually fairly recent for Italian architecture that can date back thousands of years. To give you an idea, the Pantheon (just a short walk away) was built around the year 125 AD.

The name “Navona” comes from the Italian word for ”ship” and the shape of the square is reminiscent of a ship’s hull.

It Is Home to a Bernini Masterpiece

The center of the square is dominated by the magnificent Fountain of the Four Rivers, designed by Bernini in 1651.The fountain features four statues representing the major rivers of the four continents known to Europeans at that time: the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube, and the Rio de la Plata. It is widely considered Bernini’s greatest work.

The Square Features Works of Two Renowned Rivals

Piazza Navona is also home to the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, designed, in part, by Bernini’s rival Francesco Borromini. The church was built between 1652 and 1657, during a time when the Baroque style was vogue in Rome. Some distinctive features include the church’s oval plan, unusual facade and the elliptical dome. The church and the Fountain of Four Rivers face each other. You might say that it is somewhat of an eternal representation of the rivalry of two great Italian artists.

The Egyptian Obelisk Isn’t Egyption

According to Italy Guides, the obelisk that towers above the Fountain of Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) is actually a Roman copy. While the granite used for its construction came from Egypt, the obelisk itself did not. The aswan granite pillar was commissioned by Emperor Domitian and inscribed with hieroglyphics honoring him and his family. This is thought to have stemmed from a deep fascination with Egyptian culture. The sculpture was originally located in the Circus of Maxentius but became broken and buried over time. It was later recovered and erected in the center of Bernini’s iconic fountain by order of Pope Innocent X.

It Has Always Been a Hub for Entertainment

The stadium once used for exciting events like horse racing and bull fighting eventually fell into disrepair. During the Middle Ages, the square was revamped and used as a marketplace. It was also a popular location for festivals and other events. In many ways, its use today is very similar to its use centuries ago. While it is not necessarily a dedicated market and you definitely won’t witness any bull fights, you will still find many vendors and entertainers. Due to the popularity of the square, it remains a common location for festivals and events. Regardless of when you visit, there will always be plenty of things to see and do in Piazza Navona.

It’s One of the Best Places in Rome to Just Hang Out

Today, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Rome and is known for its many cafes and restaurants. Even if you aren’t hungry, Piazza Navona is a great place to grab a gelato and people watch or admire the surrounding beauty. I can personally recommend Tres Scalini! The combination of cafes, stunning monuments and striking baroque architecture all lend to its charm. Especially if it is your first trip to the Italian Capitol, Piazza Navona deserves a spot on your bucket list for Rome. Yes, it’s touristy but it’s still a great spot to hang out and soak up Rome.

It Hosts One of the Most Beautiful Christmas Markets in Italy

Piazzo Navona hosts one of the most beautiful and festive Christmas markets in Rome. The market is set up in the center of the piazza, with stalls selling a variety of Christmas items, including tree decorations, nativity scenes, and traditional Italian sweets. There is also a large ferris wheel and other rides for children, making it a great place to visit with the family.

Two of the Three Fountains Were Built by an Apprentice of Michelangelo

Piazza Navona is home to three incredible baroque-era fountains, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (fountain of Four Rivers), the Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune), and the Fontana del Moro. Fontana del Moro sits on the south end of the square and Fontana del Nettuno on the north end. Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, the largest and most famous of the three, stands prominently in the center. The fountains to the north and south were built by an apprentice of Michelangelo, Giacomo della Porta.

Piazza Navona Was Made Into A Lake During the Summer

One of the lesser – known but interesting facts about Piazza Navona is that the square was once enjoyed by Romans as a summer ”lake.” Pre-nineteenth century, the fountain drains would be blocked and the square would flood. Fittingly, it would be known as the Lake of Piazza Navona during these months.

It’s Frequently Seen In Hollywood Movies

Numerous Hollywood films have been shot in the famous Roman square. Some of the popular movies that feature Piazza Navona include Angels and Demons, Spectre, John Wick: Chapter 2, and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Jenna Walker

Jenna Walker is a travel writer from Oklahoma who lives with her husband, two children, and three rescue pets. While out and about in the world, she loves spending time outdoors, exploring local culture, and trying new foods. Jenna knows that, often, we overlook our own backyard. You can also find her stories and guides on the website, The Oklahoma Experience.