Located near Borghese Park in Rome, Piazza del Popolo is an amazing oval square which literally means ‘Square of the People’. Three churches border the square and you will also see the spectacular obelisk from Heliopolis (Egypt).
Porta del Popolo
The north side of the square is dominated by the Porta del Popolo which leads to the Via Flaminia which is one of the most important roads leading to Rome. The Via Flaminia was built in 220 BC to connect Rome with the Adriatic Coast. Therefore many travelers entered the city from the Via Flaminia, passing through Piazza del Popolo.
In 1562 pope Pius IV commissioned architect Nanni di Baccio Bigio to construct a large gate, the Porta Flaminia, to impress the pilgrims who entered the city. In 1655, on the occasion of Queen Christina of Sweden’s arrival in Rome, the inside of the gate was decorated by Bernini on Pope Alexander VII’s request. Later the gate was renamed Porta del Popolo.
In 1589, pope Sixtus V had the Egyptian obelisk of Sety I moved from Circus Maximus to the center of the square. The 23 meter tall obelisk was originally built around 1300 BC and stood at the Sun Temple in Heliopolis. Later the Roman Emperor Augustus had the obelisk transported to Rome. It was erected at the Circus Maximus to commemorate the conquest of Egypt.
In 1815 Giuseppe Valadier redesigned the Piazza del Popolo be adding walls around the square giving it the oval shape. He also added the central fountain and the four Egyptian lions around the obelisk.
The walls are adorned with statues of sphinxes. There are two fountains integrated into the walls around the square. The fountain on the western end of the square called the Neptune Fountain and shows Neptune accompanied by Tritons. The other one located opposite Neptune Fountain at the foot of the Pincio Gardens is known as the Fountain of the goddess of Rome.
At the southern end of the square are two symmetrical churches on either side of the Via del Corso, a street leading through the heart of Rome to Piazza Venezia. The churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and the Santa Maria in Montesanto were commissioned by Pope Alexander VII in 1658. The churches are not identical since the surface area of the plot provided for the Santa Maria in Montesanto was smaller. In order to give the impression of symmetry, Rainaldi created an oval dome for this church and a circular dome for the other one.
Location: Northern part of Rome
Nearby sights: Santa Maria del Popolo, Pincio Gardens, Ara Pacis
How to get there: Subway: Flaminio (A)
Nearby hotels: Ripetta Palace, Rocco Forte Hotel De Russie, 7 Inn Spanish Steps