All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in August 2009.
Piazza Navona (Book 2) (Map C2) (Day 4) (View C6) (Rione Parione)
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Vasi shows us Piazza Navona during Ferragosto when it was flooded to provide some refreshment to the Romans; perhaps it was a reminder of the time when the Stadium built by Emperor Domitian was used for naumachias - re-enactments of naval fights. The name of the square (Navona=large ship) is probably due to its shape, which derives from that of the stadium located beneath.
The view is taken from the southern side (green dot in the map below). In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Obelisco e Fontana (dei Quattro Fiumi); 2) Altre Fontane (Fontana del Moro and Fontana del Nettuno); 3) Chiesa di S. Agnese e Palazzo Pamphilj; 4) Chiesa ed Ospitale di S. Giacomo degli Spagnoli. The small 1748 map shows also 5) Palazzo Lancellotti. 2a) is Fontana del Moro and 2b) is Fontana del Nettuno. 3a) is S. Agnese and 3b) is Palazzo Pamphilj.
Piazza Navona is still very much as it was designed in the XVIIth century. In 1936 three houses on the northern side of the square were pulled down with the idea of enlarging the access to Piazza Navona, but eventually they were carefully rebuilt.
In the etching Vasi shows in the left corner a seller of watermelons: a reminder that Piazza Navona housed the main vegetable and fruit market of Rome (the square was flooded only on Saturdays and Sundays). In 1869 the market was relocated to Campo de' Fiori. A traditional fair takes place in Piazza Navona during the Christmas holidays.
The Palace (now the Brazilian Embassy) was built in 1650 by Girolamo
Rainaldi. As many other palaces in Rome it's been recently repainted. Olimpia Maidalchini, sister-in-law of Pope Innocent X lived here; her name split and translated in Latin "olim pia" (once pious)
became a common joke to speak of an easy going woman. She convinced the Pope to name her Princess of S. Martino (see this town, totally redesigned in the XVIIth century). The Pamphilj acquired by marriage another palace near Collegio Romano which also is named after them.
A church dedicated to St. Agnes, a IVth century martyr, was built in the XIIth century on a previous oratory; the church was oriented in a different way: the back towards Piazza Navona and the entrance from Via dell'Anima. Agone (agonistic) is a reference to the races which took place in the Stadium.
The initial project for S. Agnese was designed by Girolamo Rainaldi helped by his son Carlo. Work started in 1652, but one year later Francesco Borromini replaced Rainaldi and modified almost entirely the design of the façade, which was expanded to include parts of the Pamphilj palace, thus gaining space to erect the two bell towers. Borromini designed also the elliptical dome on a high drum. In 1655 Pope Innocent X died and Borromini lost the support of his heir, Prince Camillo Pamphilj, who re-instated Carlo Rainaldi.
Notwithstanding these changes of architects the new church shows consistency of style. It represents the baroque solution to the design of bell towers in conjunction with a large dome.
Each of the bell towers has a clock: this occurs also in St Peter's and in SS. Trinità dei Monti. The clocks indicated two different times: the Italian time and the European time (Tempo Ultramontano - beyond the Alps): W. J. Goethe gave a detailed description of the two practices in his Italienische Reise - September 17, 1786 (for a short explanation see the old clock of Sutri).
Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi
Pope Innocent X decided to embellish the fountain at the centre of Piazza Navona for the Jubilee year 1650. Gian Lorenzo Bernini was not invited to submit a project, as the Pope reproached him with being too closely associated with his predecessor Pope Urban VIII and with his failure in the construction of St Peter's bell towers. Bernini found a way to have a model of his project shown to the Pope who immediately changed his mind and assigned the work to Bernini.
The fountain he designed is regarded as his masterpiece also from an engineering point of view, because many thought that the pierced travertine rocks would have collapsed under the weight of the obelisk which was placed above them.
The reaction of the Romans to this new fountain was not that enthusiastic according to Pasquino:
Pane volemo: pane, pane, pane!
The obelisk was brought here from the Circus of Romulus. It is a "Roman" obelisk in the sense that it celebrates Emperors Vespasian, Titus and Domitian and it was initially erected in this area (then called Campo Marzio) before being moved by Maxentius to the circus built in honour of his son Romulus (to see all the obelisks of Rome click here).
Dan Brown set an episode of his novel Angels and Demons here; he mentions a pigeon on top of the obelisk: actually it is a dove, one of the Pamphilj heraldic symbols. Read some more remarks on the accuracy of his book. See also the coats of arms of the pope in the fountain in the drawings by Filippo Juvarra and the fountain in the moonlight.
Bernini involved his scholars in the execution of the fountain: Ganges (by Claudio Francese identified as Claude Adam or as Claude Poussin - two French sculptors who worked in Rome - according to R. Wittkower), Nile (by Giacomo Antonio Fancelli), Danube (by Antonio Raggi il Lombardo), Rio de la Plata (by Francesco Baratta) represent the four parts of the world (Aussies we miss you here!). The rivalry between Bernini and Borromini is usually mentioned to explain the hand of Rio de la Plata, scared that the church built by Borromini could fall on him, and the Nile covering his head in order not to see the church of the rival, but one could see in these gestures also a symbol of mankind, scared and ignorant (as a matter of fact the fountain was designed and completed before Borromini started to design the church). More about the iconography of the Nile.
Bernini used to say that when he had to design a male figure he always started by drawing a sketch of Hermes del Belvedere, an ancient statue portraying a young man. For the Nile however he most likely started by drawing a sketch of Michelangelo's Moses.
Seven animals in different ways linked to the rivers populate the fountain and add life to it.
Fontana del Moro
During the pontificate of Pope Gregory XIII (1572-85) three fountains were built in Piazza Navona to serve the needs of the fruit and vegetable market. That on the southern side was designed by Giacomo della Porta and it was decorated with tritons, masks, dolphins and dragons (the heraldic symbol of the pope).
In 1653 Pope Innocent X asked Gian Lorenzo Bernini to improve the appearance of the fountain. Bernini designed a naked man standing on a conch and holding a dolphin by its tail; the statue was actually sculpted by Antonio Mari, a scholar of Bernini. Because of its facial features, the statue was called il Moro (the Moor) and eventually the name was used to designate the whole fountain.
Fontana del Nettuno
The decoration of the third fountain was not added until 1878 and for once it is an addition in line with the general context. The central statue is a work by Antonio Della Bitta, whereas the groups surrounding it are by Gregorio Zappala.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Move to: S. Giacomo degli Spagnoli and Palazzo Lancellotti
Next plate in Book 2: Piazza di Pasquino
Next step in Day 4 itinerary: Piazza di Pasquino
Next step in your tour of Rione Parione: Piazza di Pasquino