It’s a ready-made relaxing walkthrough of 6 squares in Rome’s historical city center, which will show you how different the main landmarks of this city can be: cozy, monumental, ancient, baroque, crowded, empty, touristic, and tranquil. About 1.5 hours before the sun sets, from the first spot to just enjoy, fill up your eyes and mind with beauty.
St. Ignazio square.
Start your walk from the tiny St. Ignazio square, lost in the city center. Apart from being a rare island of quietness between touristic paths, it is also an example of a ‘not typical for Rome’ Rococo-style square. Look at the buildings around, at their silhouettes – they resemble a bureau, don’t they? In fact, buildings were known as bureaus among Romans in the past for this similarity.
The real pearl of this square is hidden inside the Sant’Ignazio Church. Entering, pay attention to the ceiling, and be careful not to hurt your neck – this is an effect that a baroque fresco can create. Up there you’ll see a huge multifigure scene and a masterly created illusion of no-ending space on the flat surface of the ceiling.
And the second treasure, my favorite one. Entering you might notice a dark dome, pretty distant from you. Walking through the church, keep an eye on it and be ready to get surprised: there is no dome. It is, again, a baroque optical trick. In the vocabulary of art, this technique of creating an illusion of three-dimensional objects is called trompe l’oeil.
Piazza della Rotonda
This square is famous for one monument – Pantheon. By the way, this is the 3rd Pantheon: the first two were destroyed by fires. Of all the architectural monuments of Classical antiquity, Pantheon survived the passage of time in the best conditions. Mostly because unlike the majority of ancient buildings, it has never been abandoned. Initially built as a temple of all gods, since the year 609 it hosts a catholic church and is the tomb of Raphael and Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of united Italy.
The building is a real miracle of ancient engineering and the dome of Pantheon is still the biggest solid concrete dome in the world with its 43.3 meters diameter. The thickness of concrete decreases from about 6.5 meters at the base to a bit more than 1 meter on the top, around the ‘oculus’.
Looking at it, think of the fact that it was built around 2000 years ago and still looks almost like back then.
S.Eustachio square is one of those places where you can see scenes of Roman daily life. The beating heart of this square is a coffee bar called “Sant’Eustachio il Caffe”. It is very popular among locals and if you ask your Italian friends where to have the best coffee in the center, most of them will name this bar. I bet.
Looking above the roofs around the square you can’t help but notice a strange spiral structure. It is a lantern of the Church of Saint Ivo at La Sapienza (Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza) – another baroque masterpiece, a work of Francesco Borromini.
Piazza Navona is one of the most beautiful squares on this planet and my favorite one in Rome.
In ancient times the Stadium of Domitian was right here. And it is still here but underground. Buildings surrounding the square are standing on ancient tribunes.
In the Medieval Piazza Navona was nothing but a market square, crowded and not very clean. Instead of the three beautiful baroque fountains we admire nowadays, there were simple baths with water for people’s and animals’ needs.
Today’s appearance of the square is a merit of Donna Olimpia. Thanks to her prudence and lust for power, she managed to become the right hand and lover of Pope Innocent X. No important decisions were taken without her approval, some – on her initiative.
It was one of her ideas to improve the view of Navona square and hire the baroque sculptor and architect Gianlorenzo Bernini who made the Fountain of the Four Rivers and Moor fountain. Another genius of Italian baroque, Francesco Borromini, worked on the Sant’Agnese in Agone church where every weekend concerts of baroque music are held.
My recommendation is to visit the Museo di Roma in Braschi Palace. It has a good collection of paintings, depicting views of the city as it was many centuries ago. I like taking my friends there to see if they can recognize the famous sights of Rome and how surprised they are after realizing how different the city was in the past.
As a bonus, there are outstanding views of Navona square from some windows.
Campo de’ fiori.
The literal translation from Italian is field of flowers and until the XV century, it was a field of wildflowers with some vegetable gardens.
Nowadays it is a particularly picturesque square where every day, except Sunday, from the early morning until 14 p.m. you’ll find a functioning street market in all its colors, smells, noises, and characteristic scenes. It is the oldest market in Rome, which has been here since 1869.
When the market is over, Campo de’ Fiori becomes a pretty crowded square thanks to bars hugging it from all the sides. At that time, the main monument, which one often misses thanks to the chaos of the market, rises in the middle – a statue of Giordano Bruno, massacred in Campo de’ Fiori in the year 1600 for his ideas ahead of time.
The Farnese were another noble family that bought several buildings in the square to dismantle them and construct new ones. Those new ones built in XVI-XVII are the ones we can see today.
This square is not in the list of the most famous/beautiful/visited. And that’s fine!
Piazza Farnese is calm and elegant even if it’s only a 1-minute walk from the chaotic Campo de’ Fiori. Here you’ll find a quiet bar where locals chill out with a drink, so you might want to consider taking a glass of wine here rather than in the previous square.
The French Embassy is located here, in the Farnese Palace. It is a brilliant example of late Renaissance architecture – Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and Michelangelo worked on it. From the square, you can see beautiful frescos covering the ceiling.
After a glass of your favorite, give yourself 5 minutes to walk down to the river and bring this magnificent walk to a gentle end.