Exploring Rome — Piazza Navona

The Piazza Navona is one of my favorite piazzas in Rome, and a definite stop for any visitor to the city. The Piazza Navona is located just a short walk from the Pantheon to the west.

The piazza contains three fountains: Fountain of the Four Rivers by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Fountain of Neptune by Giacomo della Porta, and the Fountain of the Moor, also by Giacomo della Port (although Bernini added the main figure to the Fountain of the Moor). Also facing the square is Francesco Borromini’s Sant’Agnese in Agone, a church dedicated to Saint Agnes, who was martyred in the Circus of Domitian which is now the current day piazza.

The fountain by Bernini and the church by Borromini highlight the intense rivalry that these two artists cultivated during the Baroque and provides not only an important lesson in the architectural development of Rome but also enhances the piazza and shows that even two competing artists with differing styles were able to create (albeit separately) a unique and complimentary style within the piazza. Urban legend has it that the figures in Bernini’s fountain cower in ‘fear’ of the Borromini’s facade – afraid that it will come crashing down them. While this story adds color to the rivalry, it can be immediately discounted since the fountain was finished years before Borromini began his work on the church’s facade.

Many scholars see the competing styles of the piazza as a way of better understanding the Baroque. If we look at Michelangelo’s Campidoglio, we can clearly see the unified architectural program and the genius of one man’s vision to create a unified space. With the Piazza Navona, however, we have the work of several architects and artists all contributing to the architectural program which combines the personalities of very disparate artists and architects to create a unique and distinct program which one might expect to be jarring. Instead, all the pieces work together to create a unifying form and a delightful and attractive public space.

The Piazza Navona can be found here: