Piazza Navona

One of the busiest tourist locations in Rome, Piazza Navona's bars and restaurants often charge a hefty premium for the opportunity to watch the world go by while you eat your carbonara. Living statues bow to those who throw a coin into their collecting jars while caricaturists, watercolour artists and purveyors of cut-price jewellery tout for customers.

Things to See

Piazza Navona The Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona (Photo: Eleanor Murkett)

The long, narrow shape of Piazza Navona immediately recalls the chariot racetrack of the first century Roman circus on which it was built. Imagine Circus Maximus levelled out, paved over and surrounded by buildings and it's easy to see the relationship between the two in terms of their original purpose. At the north end of the Piazza it's possible to see some of the ruins of the original structure. There are more ruins in the basements of the cafès, bars and shops that line the Piazza.

During the weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year more stalls appear, selling sweets and toys, while January in the piazza sees the celebration of La Befana (Italy's female equivalent of Santa Claus, who rides a broomstick and delivers sweets to the good children and lumps of coal to the unruly).

The Fountain of the Four Rivers

In the centre of Piazza Navona, flanked by two smaller fountains, is Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers. The fountain was designed by Bernini and sculpted by his pupils - his own contribution to the hammer-and-chisel work stretched only as far as the horse in the centre. As the name of the fountain suggests, the four figures clinging to the fountain represent the major rivers of what were then the four major continents: the Danube in Europe, the Nile in Africa, the Ganges in Asia, and the River Plate in America. A legend suggests that the Nile has his head covered because he is afraid of (or despises) the nearby church built by Bernini's rival Francesco Borromini, but the dates of the fountain and church don't necessarily support this. Another theory is that the Nile's head is covered because people at the time did not know the source of the river.

The other two fountains in the piazza, the Fontana di Nettuno and Fontana del Moro, were designed by Giacomo della Porta.

Reaching Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona is five minutes' walk to the west of the Pantheon.