Even though there are dozens of churches, historic monuments,museums, restaurants and other indoor attractions, Rome is very much an outdoor city and is at its' best when it is seen from one the many Piazzas.
The word Piazza means public square and they really are for the public. Unlike many other cities, Rome's Piazzas really are gathering places for the people of Rome and visitors alike.
Piazza Navona is dominated by one of the finest examples of Bernini's fountain work which is Il Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (The Fountain of the Four Rivers) which was built in 1651.Around a large obelisk there are four large sculptures which were executed by Bernini's students. One of these sculptures the Ganges, was sculpted by Claude Poussin who was later to become renowned in his own right.
The fountain really is quite amazing with a sea monster, a lion, cacti, palm tree and a dozen other pieces woven together around the Obelisk at the centre of the fountain.
The funding required for the creation of the fountain was so large that a taxes was levied on bread, which as you can imagine prompted outcries from Roman citizens both poor and rich. However today the visitor to Piazza Navona can simply relax and have a cup of coffee while watching the busy city.
The Fountain of the Moor sits at the other end of the Piazza featuring a Triton riding a dolphin.
As you walk around Piazza Navona you will see literally dozens of merchant stalls, cafes and restaurants. One favorite activity for many who visit the Piazza is to stop near one and have their portrait sketched by one of the numerous artists who can be found there.
Piazza Navona is a great place to experience at night. With the nightlife going until early in the morning! You will find mime artists, musicians, beggars, painters and other artists alongside hundreds of natives of Rome and and tourists promenading and seeing and being seen throughout the the oval plaza. The piazza was constructed around one of the ancient circuses which refers to an area where the streets converge rather than the more familiar expression which may conjure up images of Big Tops and animals!
The Fontana dei Calderai (Fountain of the Coppersmiths), which was later renamed as the Fountain of Neptune can also be found here. It is decorated with many sea figures including Neptune slaying an octopus, sea horses, dolphins and Nerieds or sea nymphs.
I spent many happy hours in Piazza Navona and it is one place that we always return ro every time we visit Rome!