Piazza Navona is the elegant centerpiece of central Rome, showcasing showy fountains, baroque palaces, and a vibrant cast of street performers, vendors, and visitors. The square was built on top of the 1st-century Stadium of Domitian and was paved over in the 15th century, serving as the main marketplace of the city for nearly 300 years.
For an enchanting experience, visit Piazza Navona early in the morning before the hustle and bustle or in the evening when the fountains are beautifully lit. Quench your thirst at the “big nose” drinking fountain located in the northern part of the square.
In December, a historic Christmas market is held, typically lasting until January 6th, adding to the attractions of the square.
The main attraction of Piazza Navona is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi designed by Bernini. It is a grand fountain that features an Egyptian obelisk and representations of the Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Plate rivers. There is a popular legend that the Nile figure is covering its eyes to avoid seeing the Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone, which was designed by Bernini’s rival, Borromini. However, it is believed that the gesture actually symbolizes that the source of the Nile was unknown at the time, as Bernini had finished his fountain two years before Borromini began work on the church’s facade.
The Fontana del Moro, located at the southern end of the square, was created by Giacomo della Porta in 1576. Later, in the mid-17th century, Bernini added the statue of the Moor. The surrounding Tritons, however, are 19th-century replicas. On the northern end of the piazza, the Fontana del Nettuno, a 19th-century creation, showcases Neptune battling a sea creature with sea nymphs surrounding him.
In addition to the iconic fountains, Piazza Navona is home to several notable attractions, including the Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone. This church is a prime example of Francesco Borromini’s baroque architectural style, with its dramatic facade and opulent, domed interior. It is also a cultural hub, hosting classical music concerts and said to be located where the martyr Agnes performed a miracle before her death. According to legend, as she was being stripped naked by her executioners, her hair grew to cover her body and protect her modesty.
Also of interest is the Palazzo Pamphilj, commissioned by Giovanni Battista Pamphilj to commemorate his election as Pope Innocent X. This stunning baroque palace was constructed by the architects Borromini and Girolamo Rainaldi between 1644 and 1650. Inside, visitors will find stunning frescoes created by Pietro da Cortona. However, access to the building, which has been the embassy of Brazil since 1920, is limited to guided tours that must be booked in advance.
The Piazza Navona is built over the remains of the ancient Stadio di Domiziano, a 30,000-seat stadium that was used for athletic events. The name Navona is a corruption of the Greek word “agon,” meaning public games. The stadium fell into disrepair over time, but in the 15th century, it was paved over and became Rome’s central market, moving from the Campidoglio. Today, visitors can access the subterranean remains of the stadium from Via di Tor Sanguigna.
The area surrounding Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori and the Pantheon boasts a wide variety of dining options, including some of Rome’s top-rated restaurants, both modern and traditional, several top-notch gelaterie, and several highly-regarded street food spots. However, beware of the many overpriced tourist traps. If you’re looking for traditional Roman-Jewish cuisine, head to the charming Ghetto to the south.
The ground floor of Palazzo Braschi, located at the southern end of Piazza Navona, is home to the charming Vivi Bistrot, a great place for a mid-day meal. Another excellent choice is Etablì, a stylish bar-restaurant located in the maze of streets to the west of the square.