Originally built as a stadium in the first century for athletic contests and chariot races, Piazza Navona is lined with luxurious cafes and Baroque palaces and is the home to three lavish fountains. It was laid out in the 15th century on the ruins of the stadium. From 1650 to the late 19th century the square was sometimes flooded in summer and used for aquatic games and staged naval battles. The square still retains its oval shape. The obelisk at the far end of the picture came from Egypt and was originally in the Circus of Maxentius but later moved to Piazza Navona.
A modern piazza is a lively place, a place where both locals and tourists like to hang out. Artists gather in the square to paint and there are many entertainers and vendors selling souvenirs. At night the square is packed with people but if you want to really appreciate the beauty of the square itself, it's best to go in early morning to avoid the crowds.
Four Rivers Fountain - Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi
Piazza Navona centers around three lavish fountains. The central fountain, Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi, Four Rivers Fountain, is considered to be the most complex of all the fountains in Rome. It was created by Bernini in the early 1650s and was so expensive that the bread tax was raised in order to cover its high cost. It represents four rivers: the Danube, the Ganges, the Nile, and the Rio de la Plata, each identifiable by the flora and fauna.
Sant'Angese in Agone Church
Facing the Fontana Dei Fiumi, the Sant'Angese in Agone Church in Piazza Navona was designed by Borromini, a rival of Bernini. One story says that Bernini designed the Nile and Plata statues in the Fountain of the Rivers with their arms shielding their eyes from the ugliness of the church. Then Borromini added the statue of St. Agnes to the facade of the church, gazing out beyond the square so as not to see the fountains in the square. In reality, Bernini completed his fountain two years prior to the work on the facade of the church but it makes an interesting interpretation of the statues!
Fontana del Moro - Fountain of the Moor
Continuing on to the southern end of Piazza Navona we find the Fontana del Moro, designed by Giacomo della Porta and erected in 1575. The fountain has statues of four Tritons and the basin is made of special antique rose marble. In 1654, Bernini carved the central figure, a muscular Triton riding a dolphin, that resembles a "Moor." Thus, the fountain is called the Fountain of the Moor. During a restoration in 1874, the original sculptures were moved to the Villa Borghese and substitute copies were made and are still on the fountain.
Eating Tartufo in Piazza Navona
Although sitting at an outdoor table in a cafe on the square is costly, the Tre Scalini on Piazza Navona is the place to eat the famous Tartufo dessert, a rich handmade chocolate ice cream roll. It's worth the splurge if you take your time eating and enjoy taking in the scene. So just think of it as the price for some great outdoor entertainment. You can also get the tartufo to go if you prefer, for half the price.