Interesting Facts About Piazza Navona + How To Enjoy Your Visit

Arguably one of the most exclusive and expensive areas to stay in Rome, Piazza Navona is also one of the most desirable ones. The location is pretty hard to beat: easy to reach and close to many important landmarks.

If it’s your first trip to Rome, you will certainly include it in your bucket list. If it’s not your first time in the city, you will likely end up here again for a reason or the other, be it because it’s very central, because you want to see it again or because you want to visit its surroundings. Whatever the reason, some of the facts about Piazza Navona will undoubtedly make it more enticing to visit more than once.

Things To Know About Piazza Navona

piazza navona four rivers fountain

One of the unmissable landmarks in Rome whether it’s your first trip or not, knowing some Piazza Navona facts makes it even more interesting to visit. This way, you won’t just be staring at the stunning Baroque masterpieces, but you can look at them under a new perspective and with a more expert eye.

It was built on a stadium

The first thing you might notice once you reach Piazza Navona is its oval shape. The reason behind this design is that it was built on top of the Domitian Stadium around 86 AD. Emperor Domitian decided to build this stadium to introduce Greek-style games to Rome, even though Romans didn’t like them as they found them immoral and preferred the gory shows of the Colosseum.

It’s one of Rome’s most beautiful piazzas

moor fountain piazza navona

Piazza Navona is widely considered Rome’s most stunning Baroque masterpiece. A lively piazza in Rome with fountains and obelisk, here you will find street artists, portrait painters, restaurants and artwork.

Apart from the beautiful fountains decorating the piazza from north to south, also the buildings all around as well as the quaint back alleys make this one of the most stunning and immortal landmarks in Rome.

Donna Olimpia used to live here

neptune fountain pamphilj palace piazza navona rome

She might be unknown to you, but she was arguably the most powerful woman in 17th-century Rome. Olimpia Maidalchini from Viterbo, mostly known as Donna Olimpia or with the derogatory moniker of “La Pimpaccia”, lived right here.

Married to Pamphilio Pamphilj from the famous Roman noble family, she lived in the Pamphilj Palace that today is the seat of the Brazilian Embassy.

Piazza Navona features in several movies

Such a timeless beauty hardly goes unnoticed, especially if you are sensitive to art and charm. Like movie directors. In fact, it’s not a secret that Piazza Navona has been the set for several movies, both Italian and international, throughout the years.

Some of the movies where you will see Piazza Navona are Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Matt Damon and Jude Law, and La Dolce Vita by Federico Fellini starring and unforgettable Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni.

It was the place of an old market

The piazza started being a busy hub in the 15th century when the local market of fresh fruits and veggies, meat and all types of goods was set up here. From being only the place for the daily market, Piazza Navona soon became also place for the city’s celebrations and parades.

Romans enjoyed it as a lake

In 1652, Pope Innocent X Pamphilj and his sister-in-law, the powerful Donna Olimpia, ruled that Piazza Navona would be filled with water in its center by closing the drainage of its three fountains.

This way, the square became like a big lake inside the city where Romans would find relief and refreshment in summer. For around two centuries, this was the main draw for Roman citizens of all walks of life every Saturday and Sunday of August until Pope Pius IX decided to put a halt to it in 1866.

How To Make The Most of Your Visit To Piazza Navona

Go early

The piazza is one of the most popular attractions in Rome so it’s pretty much always crowded. If you want to enjoy it quietly or snap some good pictures without the crowds of tourists, your best bet is to go as early as you can in the morning.

See all the three fountains

four rivers fountain rome piazza navona facts

Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain is the biggest and most famous, but it’s not the only one worth admiring in Piazza Navona. There are other two beautiful fountains: the fountain of Neptune and the Fontana del Moro, both masterpieces of artist Jacopo Della Porta.

The Fountain of the Four Rivers is the main and central masterpiece in Piazza Navona. Work of artist Bernini, it was inaugurated in 1651 and represented the four big rivers known at the time, the Nile, the Gange, the Danube and Rio De La Plata.

The Fountain of Neptune is located in the northern end of the piazza, while Fontana del Moro in the southern edge. They were both built in 1574 under the rule of Pope Gregory III.

Visit Sant’Agnese in Agone Church

Facing the Fountain of the Four Rivers is Sant’Agnese in Agone church designed by architect Borromini. The church was built on the site of the martyrdom of Saint Agnese that took place in 304.

The oldest church dates back to the 8th century, but it was rebuilt and renovated several times, the last being in 1652 by the design of Borromini commissioned by Pope Innocent X. His tomb is inside this very church together with the graves of other members of the Pamphilj family. The important relic preserved in the church is the head of the saint.

Visit the Domitian Stadium

You can access the stadium from Via di Tor Sanguigna on the northern end of Piazza Navona. They are still digging but you can see part of the entrances for the ordinary public as well as the patrician citizens.

It’s a very fascinating site to explore underground Rome and I certainly suggest visiting it if you are interested in history. Even without entering, you can see part of the ruins from Piazza di Tor Sanguigna.

Enjoy a delicious gelato

Also on the northern end of the piazza is the famous gelateria GROM. Their gelato is all-natural and delicious, made with fresh and seasonal ingredients.

Popular all year round, it’s particularly busy in summer when tourists and locals like to enjoy their cone sitting on a bench in the square.

Visit the backstreets

The beauty of Piazza Navona relies also on the back streets all around. Don’t forget to stroll around quaint alleys such as Via di Santa Maria dell’Anima, Arco della Pace where is the church of Santa Maria della Pace and its famous cloister Chiostro del Bramante that always hosts beautiful temporary exhibitions.

On the other side of Piazza Navona is Corso Rinascimento through which you easily get to San Luigi dei Francesi church and the Pantheon. While crossing Corso Vittorio Emanuele on its south you will reach Campo de’ Fiori.

Know where to eat

Like for every tourist landmark, also around Piazza Navona is packed with tourist restaurants and menus. Knowing where to eat here is a plus that can make your visit more pleasant.

A nice place for lunch or dinner is Ginger Salute & Sapori in Piazza Sant’Eustachio near the Pantheon, so also not far from Piazza Navona. Facing the restaurant is also Gunther Gelato Italiano, one of Rome’s best gelaterias, and Caffè Sant’Eustachio known for one of Rome’s best coffees.

READ MORE: What to eat in Rome – Top Roman traditional dishes

Where to stay near Piazza Navona

In this area, you can find some of the best hotels in Rome. Here are the top choices of hotels near Piazza Navona are:

Hotel Navona – A renovated 15th-century frescoed building hosting a boutique hotel that features modern facilities.

Navona Colors Hotel – Minimalist and stylish hotel 200 meters from Piazza Navona.

Eitch Borromini Palazzo Pamphilj – Elegant 17th-century mansion designed by Borromini with views of Piazza Navona.

Palazzo Navona Hotel – Elegant 4-star hotel 100 meters from Piazza Navona.

Vanity Hotel Navona – Chic and spacious rooms 300 meters from Piazza Navona.

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