From the shadows of the ancient, winding streets of the historic center you suddenly come upon the breathtaking magnificence of Piazza Navona, born as a place of spectacle and still today a spectacular open air show; an architectural miracle in the heart of the Eternal City, filled with masterpieces in perfect harmony with each other.
This piazza, which displays the genius of Bernini and Borromini, is one of the finest Baroque Masterpiece in papal Rome. Its harmony and colors, combined with its elegance, give it a charm that is enhanced by the surprising contrast of architecturally sober houses alternating with a number of monumental Buildings.
Of all Rome's piazzas, this isola pedonale (pedestrian precinct) is one where the liveliness of Roman life is most tangible. It has long been a meeting place for the inhabitants of Rome. In past, in addition to the market, processions and spectacles where held here - included "naumachiae", or mock naval battles.
Today life in the piazza revolves around the open-air-cafés and the seasonal fairs. Of these the most popular is the one held in December and early January where toys and crib figures are sold. Its theme if the Feast of Epiphany as well as Christmas, so la Befana (the Epiphany witch, who his roughly the Italian equivalent of Father Christmas) features prominently. In the summer the piazza provides a continous festival of painters, caricaturists, fortune-teller and buskers, who entertain visitors until the small hours.
Piazza Navona is a perfect example of urban continuity in Rome. It cover exactly the area occupied by the track of Rome's first stadium (built by Domitian between 81 and 96 AD). The stadium was known as Circus Agonalis (competition arena), which became corrupted to "n'Agona" and eventually "Navona".
Soon after being elected Pope, Innocent X (1644-55) decided to embellish the piazza in honor of his family, the Pamphilj, just as Urban VIII had revamped part of Quirinal hill to glorify the Berberini family. With this in mind, he had his family palace and the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone rebuilt, ordered the restoration of the two fountains that Gregory XIII (1572-85) had installed at either end of the piazza, and commissioned the colossal Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi in center.
Piazza Navona is one of the Roman's most treasured piazzas; here, in centuries past, acrobats and jugglers performed and even today, it's still lively with painters and street performers that put on their shows for tourists and passersby, new spectators of that life that's always flowed though the piazza with movement and joy.