Piazza del Popolo is one of Rome’s best known squares! This piazza’s neoclassical layout was designed by Architect Giuseppe Valadier between 1811-1822, thanks to whom the square gradually took its present-day elliptical form. One would think that this laidback urban space gets its name from the Italian word “people”, literal translation of “popolo”…most theories, instead, tend to curiously link it to the Latin “popolus” meaning poplars. It is common belief, in fact, that Emperor Nero had poplars planted in the area, but many tales continue to cloud the exact origin of the name.
Located at the very center of the so-called “Trident”, via del Babuino, via del Corso and via di Ripetta all branch from Rome’s Piazza del Popolo. Access to the square is ensured on all sides, but the main, grand entrance lays on the plaza’s northern end through the magnificent Porta del Popolo (partially visible on our live webcam). The porta is a gateway belonging to the Aurelian walls, built in 1475 by Pope Sixtus IV on the site of an ancient roman gate. It was originally called Porta Flaminia as it gave onto via Flamina leading to the Adriatic sea. Rather than defensive the gate played an important part in administering urban traffic. The modern-day aspect dates back to the 16th century when Pius IV commissioned its restoration. The outer façade was first assigned to Michelangelo who passed it on to Nanni di Baccio Bigio, the latter looked to Rome’s Arch of Titus for inspiration; the inner façade, on the other hand, was carried out by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and unveiled on December 23rd 1655 during the arrival in Rome of abdicant Queen Cristina of Sweden following her conversion to Catholicism. The gate, in fact, celebrates this special event with an inscription by Bernini that, loosely translated, reads: “For a happy and propitious entrance, year 1655”.
Santa Maria del Popolo rises beside this massive gate, the basilica stands out for both height and décor. If compared to other cathedrals in Rome, Santa Maria del Popolo can appear unusually stunted in height and its ceilings oddly empty, but all is compensated with beautiful paintings by Caravaggio and Raffaello rendering it exceptional and an absolute must see. Other two cathedrals border Rome’s Piazza del Popolo, Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto; the two appear to be exact replicas (so much so that they are often referred to as “twin churches”), but attentive observers will soon realize that this isn’t the case. Although the Pantheon was used as a model for both buildings, differences emerge with a closer look at both the exterior design and interior plan. Pope Alexander VII commissioned the churches to Architect Carlo Rainaldi. Santa Maria dei Miracoli was terminated in 1681, it presents a circular plan, an octagonal cupola and an 18th century bell tower (both designed by Carlo Fontana). Santa Maria in Montesanto was completed in 1675, Rainaldi’s original plans were revised by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and lastly by Carlo Fontana. The basilica presents an elliptical plan and a dodecagonal cupola.
Our live cam in Piazza del Popolo offers an outstanding view of the Egyptian Obelisk of Ramsses II with the Fountain of the Lions at its base (four small fountains each depicting a lion sitting upon a stepped pyramid). The obelisk - also known as the Flaminio Obelisk - dates back to the XIII BC, built under the reign of Pharaohs Ramsses II and Merneptah. In 10 BC Augustus ordered that it be brought to Rome and in 1589 it was erected in Piazza del Popolo, the obelisk stands a staggering 24 meters high! Two more fountains adorn Piazza del Popolo (positioned on opposite sides of the square), both designed by Valadier and sculpted by artist Giovanni Ceccarini, these are the Fountain of Neptune, that can be seen via our live webcam, and the Fountain of the deity Rome. From the deity Rome, tourists make their way to the Pincian Terrace where a breathtaking panoramic view of Rome’s Piazza del Popolo can be admired.
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According to a local medieval tale, Piazza del Popolo inherits its name from the basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo that stands adjacent to the Porta del Popolo. An old folk tale narrates that in time a giant walnut tree grew on the remains of Emperor Nero, buried in the area; the site was soon believed to be haunted. The Emperor’s bones attracted demons and spirits scaring off nearby inhabitants. In 1099 Pope Paschal demanded three days of fasting, on the third day, as suggested by the Madonna, he ordered that the walnut be cut to the ground; Nero’s remains were exhumed and his bones were first burned then scattered in the Tiber. The curse was finally broken and a new small chapel was erected, later replaced by Pope Sixtus V with the basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, “of the people” because requested and financed by the Romans. The name was most likely passed to the homonymous square and gate.
Did you know that Santa Maria in Montesanto is also known as the Church of the Artists? Every Sunday since 1953 the so-called “mass for the artists” is celebrated and attended by individuals belonging to the arts.