The Piazza has its lengthened shape because it resamples the route of a Roman stadium here built by emperor Domitian.
Unlike amphitheatres as Colosseum,in the stadiums were not held gladiators fights but sports competitions on the model of Greek Olimpyc games.
Anyone hoping to pay a quiet visit to Piazza Navona should arrive with the sun. From 9 A.M. to midnight, the 900-footlong piazza-which follows the outline of the Circus Agonalis built by Domitian and was flooded for mock battles into the 19th c.-is thronged with vendors, portrait artists, and picture snapping tourists who tend to crowd the view of the main attraction, Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers .
The four rivers anthropologically depicted-the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube, and the Rio de la PIata-represent the four corners of the earth targeted for conversion by the Counterreformation Church.
Commissioned by Pope Innocent X in 1645, in a bid to outdo his Barberini predecessor, the fantastic confection was paid for with a despised tax on bread. The obelisk rising from its center, topped with the Pamphilj symbol, a dove, once stood beside Domitian’s Temple of Isis. Innocent then hired Borromini, Bernini’s great rival, to redo the facade of the adjacent S. Agnese in Agone .
Although the 3rd-c. Agnes suffered agonies aplenty-stripped naked before a howling crowd in a brothel that stood on this spot before she was burned, beheaded, or stabbed to death (accounts vary)-the name refers not to her martyrdom, but to the athletes (agone) of the ancient Circus. Next door is the Palazzo Pamphilj , now the Brazilian Embassy, and at the foot of the piazza sits the sprawling 18th-c. Palazzo Braschi , the last palace built in Rome for the family of a pope.
The compact quarter of twisting streets and alleys just west of Piazza Navona is an easy place to get lost, literally and most rewardingly.
Use this card as a guide, but yield often to the temptation to stray down streets not mentioned.
From the southwest end of Piazza Navona, walk west on V. di Pasquino to Piazza di Pasquino, where the weathered stone remnant of Rome’s favorite” talking statue” bestrides a pedestal papered with political witticisms and vulgar satirical veerse.
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