Piazza Navona Square

Sublime Piazza Navona with 3 amazing Baroque fountains

With its baroque palazzi, showy fountains, and colorful cast of street artists, tourists, and hawkers, Piazza Navona is central Rome’s elegant showcase square. The square’s name is probably due to its shape, which derives from that of the stadium built by Emperor Domitian upon which it stands. Piazza Navona is still the same as it was created in the XVIIth century. In 1936 three houses were pulled down with the concept of enlarging the entrance to the square. They reconstructed because it was noticed that they stood upon the walls of the antique stadium.

I stepped into Piazza Navona, called so by corruption, from Piazza d’Agona because in this Piazza was anciently a Circus for Sports, and it was called Circus Agonalis. In the midst of it, anciently stood a great Egyptian Pillar, with hieroglyphics upon it. Now of late, it hath gotten another such Pillar set up here by Pope Innocent the X, with a rare Fountain issuing forth at the Foot of it, and adorned with four great Statues of white Marble, representing the four parts of the World. In this place also stands the new Church of St. Agnes, built upon the place where she was condemned to the Stews.

This Church is built at the Cost of Principe Pamphilio, whose Palace joins upon it. This Palace overlooking the Piazza Navona deserves a glance of an eye and an hour Inspection within.

Richard Lassels’ The Voyage of Italy, or a Compleat Journey through Italy in ca 1668

Four rivers fountain in Piazza Navona

(left) Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi; (centre) the obelisk; (right) bronze dove at the top of the obelisk

Erected in the heart of Piazza Navona, the Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi was designed by Bernini in 1651. Bernini’s fountain is also regarded as his masterpiece from an engineering point of view. Many thought that the pierced travertine rocks would have collapsed under the obelisk’s weight placed above them. Circo di Massenzio brought the Obelisk. It is a “Roman” obelisk because it honors Emperors Titus, Vespasian, and Domitian. It was constructed in this area in honor of his son Romulus.

In the Summer, this Square is overflowed with Water about two Feet deep, more or less as they please, through which the Coaches drive (for here is the Ring). The Noise of the Splashing of the Horses Feet in the Water, with that of the prodigious quantity which gushing from this vast Rock, and in some parts tumbling down a great height, and breaking on other parts of the Fountain, to sling a sort of Dew all about; together with the Echoes from the Palaces, and Churches all around the Piazza Navona, is indeed Sublime.

Jonathan and Jonathan Richardson – Account of Some of the Statues, etc. in Italy – 1722

The lone dove is the pagan symbol for the Angel of Peace. (..) The bird was looking west.

Hero, on Dan Brown set an episode of his novel Angels and Demons at Piazza Navona

Bernini involved his colleagues in the execution of the fountain: – Nile (by Giacomo Antonio Fancelli), Rio de la Plata (by Francesco Baratta), Danube (by Antonio Raggi), Ganges (by Claudio Francese) the four parts of the planet known at the time. Borromini and Bernini’s competition describes the raised hand of Rio de la Plata as if the river was scared that the chapel created by Borromini could fall on him. Still, the fountain was designed and finished before Borromini started to develop the church.


The statue of the River Ganges is based on the antique iconography of river gods, and it mirrors that of Marforio. However, the Ganges is not as comfortable placed on the rock as Marforio.


The fountain intended to show the Faith descending on the World from the obelisk, which describes why the Danube is turned.

Rio de la Plata

Rio de la Plata is amazed by the New Faith, which was foreign in its part of the world. Its appearance brings to mind a detail of Raphael’s Transfiguration and a famous sculpture by Giambologna.


Bernini announced that when he had to create a male figure, he always started by outlining Hermes del Belvedere, an antique statue portraying a young gentleman. For the beard of the Nile, he probably began by drawing Michelangelo’s Moses.

Noi volemo altro che Guglie e Fontane.

Pane volemo: pane, pane, pane!

The reaction of the Romans to this new fountain was not that enthusiastic, according to Pasquino: (We need other than obelisks and fountains. Bread we want: bread, bread, bread!)

Fontana del Moro, in Piazza Navona

Fontana del Moro

Giacomo Della Porta designed the fountain on the southern side with tritons, dolphins, and dragons, masks, the heraldic figure of Pope Gregory XIII. In 1653 Pope Innocent X required Bernini to update the appearance of the fountain. Bernini created a naked man standing on a conch shell and carrying a dolphin by its tail. The statue was sculptured by Antonio Mari, an assistant to Bernini. Because of its facial features, the figure was called il Moro, and eventually, the name was used to designate the entire fountain.

Fontana del Nettuno, in Piazza Navona

Fontana del Nettuno and a detail of its decoration

The third fountain’s decoration was not added until 1878, and it is an addition in line with the usual context. The middle statue is a work by Antonio Della Bitta, whereas the groups surrounding it are by Gregorio Zappala.

Location: Piazza Navona, Rome