Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo is one of Rome’s most vibrant plazas, located just east of the Tiber River. Just a short walk from the Villa Borghese and a leisurely stroll from the Spanish Steps, this plaza is easy to reach and also has a Metro stop nearby, Flaminio-Piazza del Popolo.

The piazza is always vibrant and full of people, and you will often see throngs of travelers and locals taking a break on the steps of the twin churches, around the obelisk and at one of the cafes nearby.

Some uncertainty exists over where the piazza received its name. A popular theory is that the piazza receive its name from the poplars (populi) that surrounded the piazza. But a new theory suggests that the piazza received its name from the ancient latin words which meant parish: populus, plebs and pieve. A parish, in ancient times, consisted of small, often run-down and poorly kept housing which surrounded a church with those living inside the houses the ones more likely to worship at that church. Historians believe that the word, popolo, and the eventual name of the piazza refers not to the trees but to the parish or populus.

The streets that branch out from the Piazza del Popolo are often referred to as il tridente (the trident), which include the Via del Corso (which runs down the center), along with the Via del Babuino and the Via di Ripetta. You can see the formation of “the trident” from the map below:

The nearby Pincio (or Pincian Hill) will offer excellent views of the piazza — the same location where most of the photos presented in this post were taken. A great place to snap some memorable images of your own trip to Rome. The Pincio can be reached from a set of stairs that lead from the piazza to the hill.

This plaza has a unique and interesting history, and there are some excellent sites here that you should not pass up:

  • one of the oldest obelisks in Rome, Obelisco Flaminio
  • Santa Maria del Popolo (originally a chapel built in 1099; reconstructed in 1472; received a new facade in 1655)
  • Santa Maria dei Miracoli (1681)
  • Santa Maria in Montesanto (1679)
  • Porta del Popolo

While the Santa Maria del Popolo is arguably a very important church, the twin churches (le chiese gemelle, pictured left) of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (right) and Santa Maria in Montesanto (left) are the crux of this piazza. While at first glance, the two churches appear identical, there are many differences between them, architecturally and spiritually. The reconstruction and building of these two churches was an important building project which helped to revitalize and re-energize this plaza, which served as the main entrance to Rome in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It is easy to see why so much money and so much talent was recruited for this very important project, with names such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Carlo Rainaldi and Carlo Fontana.

Two works by Caravaggio can be found in the Cerasi Chapel, located in the Santa Maria del Popolo: The Crucifixion of Saint Peter and The Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus.

Each Sunday a mass for the artists is read at Santa Maria in Montesanto, often animated to music. To read more about this (in Italian), check out the web site for the church.

Excellent sources on the Piazza del Popolo:

  • Cannatà, Roberto. Umanesimo e primo Rinascimento in S. Maria del popolo: Roma, Chiesa di S. Maria del popolo, 12 giugno-30 settembre 1981. Il Quattrocento a Roma e nel Lazio, 1. Roma: De Luca, 1981.
  • Cappelletti, Francesca, and Adriana Capriotti. Piazza del popolo. A Roma, 3. Roma: A. Rotundo, 1988.
  • Gizzi, Federico. Le chiese barocche di Roma. Roma tascabile, 6. Roma: Tascabili Economici Newton, 1998.
  • Grundmann, Stefan, and Ulrich Fürst. The Architecture of Rome: An Architectural History in 400 Individual Presentations. Stuttgart: Edition Axel Menges, 1998.
*all photos in this post are my own