Piazza Navona is one of the most popular piazzas in Rome, filled with bustling cafes, restaurants, locals, tourists, artists, and your occasional pick pocket.
While you can easily spend much of your day admiring this square alone, there are places worth exploring beyond this famous piazza…and I’ll take you to a few such places you won’t want to miss while you Roam through Rome‘s off the beaten path places.
You can find out all about Piazza Navona above ground AND underground in Episode #77 Angels & Demons Tour of Rome featuring Piazza Navona, but here are some nearby places near Piazza Navona that you won’t want to miss
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About 20 yards South-East of Piazza Navona is a little square, Piazza Pasquino, with a bust named after, well…Pasquino. Pasquino was not a famous Roman Emperor or artist, he was just a barber or a tailor, depending on who you ask, who lived in the middle ages and was blessed with a tongue sharper than his scissors! With barber shops notorious for being a place where people exchanged gossips and complaints, Pasquino held nothing back when it came to being vocal…therefore became a popular non-political figure in Rome!
After his death the citizens honored Pasquino with a battered statue that was dug up, probably dating back to 3rd century BC. But old man Pasquino never stopped complaining!! Ever since, all sorts of complaints about local or national politics were written on bits of paper and attached to this “talking statue”. Some were legitimate complaints, and some were, well, “Pasquinate” – or satirical in nature.
One such witty complaints said to have been attached to Pasquino’s talking statue is still talked about today. It was in reference to the Barberini family including Pope Urban VIII who came from the Barberini family, who were blamed for plundering ancient Roman buildings for their own purpose, such as the bronze from the Pantheon to build the Baldachin over the papal altar in St Peter’s. The well-known complaint that became a Roman saying was, “Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini” (“What the barbarians didn’t do, the Barberini did”).
Eventually authorities prevented the public from posting commentary on ol’ Pasquino, so the people turned to other statues like Marforio which can be found inside the Capitoline Museum. But there’s more to the story that takes you further away from Piazza Navona onto a street that went by many names. Another talking statue on via del Babuino.
The fountain with the statue of an ancient depiction of a character in Roman mythology, half man half goat, is situated beside the Chiesa di S. Atanasio dei Greci placed there in late 1500′s. The people of Rome began calling the statue “Babuino” because to them it looked like an ugly monkey. The street it was on was nicknamed after the statue’s nickname, and eventually both nicknames became official! In order to do away with the constant graffiti and protest, the wall behind the statue was painted with anti-vandalism paint. This talking statue has been silenced forever.
Piazza Farnese is a short walk from Piazza Navona, and welcomes you with a wide spacious square with beautiful buildings, fountains, and streets forking off in all directions. Built in the 1500′s, Palazzo Farnese is the centerpiece palace named after the highly influential and prominent family in Renaissance Italy, the Farnese, who also produced a Pope, Pope Paul III. Michelangelo was commissioned as the key architect of the Palace. Several main rooms were decorated with elaborate allegorical frescoes.
Currently, the palace houses the French Embassy to Italy, leased to them from 1630′s until 2035. The embassy with it’s extra police protection makes this piazza one of the safest to visit and to stay near.
In the piazza, 2 large Egyptian granite tubs from the Baths of Caracalla were transformed into fountains bearing the symbol of both Farnese family and the French Royal Family, the lily..
From Piazza Farnese, head down via dei Farnesi to Via Giulia. First thing you’ll notice on the left is an elegant arch. Actually, it’s a fragment of an incomplete bridge designed by, once again, Michelangelo, that would’ve allowed the fancy schmanzy Farnese family private access to their winter palace, Villa Farnesina in Trastevere.
Exquisite vines that have defined the charming beauty and recognition of this bridge have recently removed completely. Although I don’t know the reasoning for this, I can only assume it was either to prevent damage to the bridge by the vines, or to reveal the architecture of the bridge that has previously been obscured.
Via Giulia was named after Pope Julius II….the pope also known as The Fearsome Pope and the Warrior Pope who was also responsible for knocking down the old Saint Peter’s Basilica and building the grand version we see today, as well as comissioning Michelangelo to paint his masterpiece ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. No doubt, he was also called the Patron of the Arts for also founding the Vatican Museums. As if all that wasn’t enough, the Pope also commissioned Bramante, also the architect of Saint Peter’s Basilica, to build a street in a straight line to promote a convenient place for all the government institutions to set up their offices. Only about 2 miles of the street was completed before the project was abandoned. Nowadays, via Giulia is lined with an array of cultural buildings, churches, antique shops and expensive residences.
Not too far from the bridge is the unusual Fontana del Mascheone that was commissioned by the Farnese family in 1626 by combining two ancient sculptures. This is one of the few fountains in Rome you do NOT want to drink out of!
Via Giulia is a wonderful place for an off the beaten path stroll in Rome for many reasons. It’s not a main road, so you don’t have to dodge too many cars and scooters and inhale nasty fumes, it’s wide enough that you have enough elbow room to enjoy your stroll, do some sight seeing and window shopping without knocking into other people.
If you’d like to walk the well worn path of the early pilgrims on their way to St Peter’s, you can take Via dei Coronari off of Piazza Navona toward the Tiber River where you’ll cross Ponte San Angelo to Castel Sant Angelo.
This narrow lane was created in the 1400′s by Pope Sixtus IV – the same pope who restored the old Cappella Magna chapel that we know as Sistine Chapel. This created a way for many pilgrims to reach Saint Peter’s Basilica. Because it was typically mobbed with pilgrims, the street became lined with shops and vendors selling religious souvenirs and rosary beads…much like they do today, but they moved much closer to St Peter’s piazza. Some things never change!! The street got its name Via dei Coronari from the rosaries that were called “crowns of beads”.
Nowadays you don’t see shops selling religious souvenirs, or find yourself in human stampedes with hoards of pilgrims trampling over each other to get over the bridge. What’s interesting about this street is that it maintained its medieval feel in both architecture and narrow lanes, even though touches of Renaissance and Baroque have been added on over time. You can enjoy your quiet stroll to Piazza Navona, check out the antique shops, or stop at a cozy café’s for a caffeine pick-me-up.
Travel Tip: When you visit a main piazza in Italy, don’t just see the piazza and run off to the next place on your checklist. You could be missing out on a LOT!! So take your time and venture off into the side streets, away from the tourist attractions and into the local neighborhoods. You’ll be surprised by what you’ll find just a block away. Thank you for joining me today in Rome. Until next time, ciao for now!!