piazza navona rome

Piazza Navona Rome: Fountains, Facts and History


A favourite square in Rome amongst visitors and locals alike, the Piazza Navona, Rome is an absolute must-see when in Rome. Surrounded on all sides by beautiful baroque architecture, this piazza inspires all in those who are lucky enough to pass through it.

Check out our guide to the Piazza Navona, Rome. Impress your travel companions with your knowledge about the Piazza Navona fountains and the square’s history. Stake out the best eateries around, and uncover the best Piazza Navona hotels. You will be armed with all you need to really enjoy the experience!

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Piazza Navona Rome – History

The Domitian Stadium used to stand right in the spot of the Piazza Navona. It was named after the Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus, who bestowed the stadium upon his people around 80AD.

Used primarily as a sports stadium, the arena could hold up to 20,000 people and followed a similar design to the Colosseum. It is believed that the “agones” – games – were watched by many and that the name eventually changed somehow from “agones” to “avones” and eventually to “Navona”.

The origins of the word Navona are uncertain. Some claim it is a variation of the word “Agone” which is Greek for contest. Others state it is definitely due to the shipping themed events that took place here – Navona meaning large ship.

piazza navona rome
Piazza_Navona_Rome_History

Piazza Navona Building history

The stadium was built in blocks – mainly of travertine, and was commissioned by the Emperor Domitian. Construction was completed in 86AD.

The site was used continually until the 5th Century, when its decay resulted in large parts of it being carried off to build churches and other buildings.

Later, the square was used as a market place. Pope Innocent X refurbished the square in the 17th century and brought the beautiful Baroque architecture we know today.

The original stadium now lies deep below the Piazza Navona, and can be visited on organised tours on specific days.

Piazza Navona Rome – Fun Facts

The glorious Piazza Navona fountains are the focal point of this square – we will tell you more about them in a bit. First – read on for some interesting Piazza Navona facts!

A swimming pool ?

This fact is so good it is nearly unbelievable! In the 17th Century Pope Innocent X used to block up the water outlet in the fountains so the square would flood. The reason? To let the local residents have a place to cool off in the summer sun! Now, that’s a cool Pope!

A ghostly tale

Rumour has it that, if you catch the light right during the full moon, you will see the shadow of a hand! It is said to be that of Costanza de Cupis who had her hand cut off to avoid infection! Gross.

Christmas Time at the Piazza Navona

The Piazza Navona is home to a gorgeous Christmas market famous with both locals and tourists alike. Try to check it out if you are on a winter break in Rome!

The Christmas Market at the Piazza Navona is one of Italy’s favorite markets. It is certainly Rome’s most popular, despite being called the Market of the Witch! This is due to the epiphany tradition of a witch bringing children treats on January 6th.

Despite the market being heavily restricted in recent years- there is no hot food for example, and randomly few arts and crafts. Sweets and biscuits are sold in nicely wrapped paper, but the main attraction is the gorgeous carousel that is the focal point of the Christmas market.

Afterwards, get warmed up with some pasta at one of the many good restaurants near the Piazza Navona.

piazza navona rome Christmas Market
Piazza_Navona_Christmas_Market

Piazza Navona in movies

Catch a glimpse of the Piazza Navona in a number of famous movies! The square features in Angels and Demons and Catch 22 for example.

A 200 year tradition

There was a 200-year tradition – started by Pope Innocent X – that allowed the drains in the fountains to be blocked. This enabled the locals to take a dip in the water on a hot summer’s day! Unfortunately, Pius IX didn’t like this and stopped the events in the mid-19th century.

Piazza Navona and Ancient Rome Guided Tours

The history of Piazza Navona
history_piazza_navona

If you want to know more about the facts and history of the Piazza Navona why not take one of the Piazza Navona and Ancient Rome guided tours.

There are several on offer, but the best ones feature a guided walking tour around the area and usually include the Colosseum. Gaze in awe at the square whilst listening to a knowledgeable guide tell you all you need to know about the area. Most tours also provide you with headsets so you won’t miss a thing!

In ancient Rome, spectator sports were a popular pastime. The stadium could hold between 20 and 30 thousand people. It was a popular place to come to unwind and enjoy the games.

Until the 5th Century the stadium attracted locals and visitors alike. Particular popular were gymnastic sports – not to mention the odd nude activity!

Piazza Navona – What to do and see

Let’s check out some of the best things to see and do in the Piazza Navona

  • Visit the 3 fountains – the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, the Fontana di Nettuno and the Fontana del Moro (more about these later)
  • Visit the Sant'Agnese in Agone Church
  • 2 words – Christmas Market!
  • Take in the street entertainers
  • Tour the ruins of the stadium below the piazza
  • People watch in a café
  • Throw coins in the fountains!

Piazza Navona guided tours options:

Guided toursHighlightsPriceDurationBooking
Free walking tour of Rome Piazza Navona, Piazza di Spagna, Trevi Fountaine… free 2-hours Book here
Rome by Night – walking tour Renaissance squares and famous piazzas Rome From €60 3-hours Book here
Rome by Night – minibus + walking tour most famous piazzas and monuments in Rome + Vatican & Colosseum From €25 3-hours Book here
Rome monuments and piazzas walking tour Pantheon, Trevi, Navona, famous piazzas… €39 €91 2,5-hours Day tour Book here
church sant'agnes in agone piazza navona
sant-agnes-in-agone

Piazza Navona Fountains – Impressive Stories

The fountains in the Piazza Navona are what tourists come for in their droves! Check them out here:

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi – Four Rivers Fountain

Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers – which is a melange of Christianity’s most important rivers – hosts an obelisk and is perhaps the most well-known of the Piazza Navona’ s fountains.

Bernini’s spectacular fountain is found right bang smack in the middle of the square. Construction finished in 1651.

The fountain represents the four rivers that everyone knew of back then:

  •   the Danube,
  •   the Rio de la Plata,
  •   the Nile
  •   and the Ganghes.

Bernini nearly didn’t get selected to build the fountain – the Pope wasn’t a big fan. But he overcame this hurdle by showcasing his design to the Pope’s sister. Borromini, one of his rivals, designed the Sant’Angese in Agone Church.

If you look at the statue representing the Rio de la Plata, the figure seems to be covering his eyes. The story is that the figure is shielding his view from the bad architecture of the church.

It’s just a legend (the church was built after) but it’s still a fun story to tell tourists.

piazza navona fontana dei quattro fiumi
fontana_dei_quattro_fiumi

Fontana del Moro

The Moorish Fountain was originally known as the sea shell fountain, and is home to a number of statues. A little known fact however is that these are actually replica statues. You can see the originals at the Villa Borghese. It was a pretty good decision to move them – as a crazy person attacked the replicas with a weapon and beheaded them in 2011!

Fontana del Nettuno

Neptune’s fountain is the third fountain you can see in the Piazza Navona. The architect for this was Giacomo Della Porta, who got the gig for the Fontana del Moro too. The sculpture of Neptune battling with a huge octopus was added later in 1873 in order to try to match the grandeur of the other 2 fountains in the square.

piazza navona rome fontana del nettuno
fontana_del_nettuno

Wonderful Museum Piazza Navona Underground Museum and the Palazzo Braschi

Here’s where you get to see the underground museum based in the ruins of the stadium.  This area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you can take in the remaining structures of the stadium. 5 meters below ground you will see the construction, materials, and a small museum.

Afterward, head on over to the Palazzo Braschi for more Roman history. Located just off the square, the museum features historical artifacts, books, and collections telling the story of the area’s past.

Sant'Agnese in Agone & Palazzo Pamphilj

The church in the square – from which the Rio de la Plata statue is apparently shielding his eyes – is worth a visit too. This Baroque church hails from the 17th century.

Again, it was Pope Innocent X who commissioned the church. Borromini started the design, then it was picked up by Rinaldi, who made a number of modifications to the design. The skull of St Agnes is housed here, as are a number of great frescoes, statues and other embellishments.

Palazzo Pamphilj is now the Brazilian Embassy in Rome, but was formerly a grand palace. It was originally Pope Innocent X’s home. The palace was completed in 1650.

Best time to visit the Piazza Navona Rome

There are a couple of great times at which to visit the Piazza Navona Rome:

Early Morning

We’re talking 6am here! Get up early to avoid the crowds and grab some pictures your shot is ruined by hundreds of others taking selfies!

Dusk

There is something special about dusk in Rome, and the lighting in the Piazza Navona makes for a really romantic setting

Christmas

The little Christmas market in the Piazza Navona is worth a look. Buy yourself some roast chestnuts and enjoy the atmosphere as the twinkly lights get you in the Christmas mood!

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Piazza Navona Hotels: where to sleep

Thinking about where to stay in Piazza Navona?

There are dozens of great hotels around the Piazza Navona, all of which are suitable for a range of budgets.

For Luxury, try the Bio Hotel Raphael. It’s a 5* splendour just off the square, but it’s not cheap. Check out the roof terrace…

If, like us, your budget is more modest, there is still plenty of choice. You might have to head a little off the square to get a decent price though. Try the Rome Kings Suite starting at about €100 per night. You’ll get a room with Wi-Fi and a decent breakfast too.

Here are some examples of the best Piazza Navona hotels to get you started:

Best for: Budget – Florea Palace

This amazing hotel has rooms from just £69 a night! It is only a few hundred yards from the Piazza Navona and offers basic but chic modern style rooms in a beautiful old building.

The location alone makes it a great option for budget travellers looking to explore the area without having to rely on public transport.

florea palace hotel piazza navona

Best for: Mid-Range – Relais Fontana di Trevi

How about staying in a hotel with a view right over the Trevi fountain? Located only 5 minutes from Barberini metro station, the Relais Trevi Fountain has a roof terrace overlooking the Trevi Fountain.

It is just short 10 minute walk from here to the Piazza Navona, with rooms starting at £125 a night.

  • Book your nights here
relais fontana di trevi hotel near piazza navona

Best for: Splurge – The First Roma Dolce

For the ultimate celebration getaway or romantic treat, check out the First Roma Dolce. Just a ten-minute walk from the Piazza Navona, this opulent hotel is a real drop of luxury.

This hotel gets top marks for not only the sumptuous furnishings, but also the fabulous breakfast.

Rooms here will set you back at least £300 a night depending on the season – better get saving!

piazza navona rome first roma dolce Hotel

Apartments for rent near Piazza Navona

Fancy a bit more space and privacy? Renting an apartment is a great way to maintain a bit of home whilst traveling.

The Navona Open Space Aparthotel is an excellent option for those wanting independence. The beautifully restored 16th century building will get you in the mood for history.

You’ll also be able to visit a local market and cook up some local too.

Piazza Navona Restaurants – Where to eat

Where to eat Rome
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There are plenty of restaurants near the Piazza Navona. Here’s our top selection, including plenty of cheap restaurants near the Piazza Navona.

Bernini Restaurant Piazza Navona

Situated right on the square at number 44, Bernini restaurant is a firm favourite. Here you can sample some of the best pizza on the Piazza Navona. Of course, there is lasagne and ravioli too!

Saltimbocca Piazza Navona

There is also a pretty good vegan and vegetarian menu too. There is no website for this little restaurant, but check them out on Facebook.

Ristorante Tucci Piazza Navona

This restaurant is found at number 94 Piazza Navona. Again, it’s traditional fayre with an Italian vibe. Enjoy the wonderful views of the Piazza Navona from your table as you feast on pasta and pizza. Vegan and vegetarian available too.

Caffe Domiziano Piazza Navona

Named after the original name for the stadium found 5 feet below you, you’ll find something for everyone here. At number 88 Piazza Navona, Caffe Domiziano look over the Four Rivers Fountain. Take your lunch here and impress your travelling companions with your local knowledge!

Da Francesco Piazza Navona

Situated off the square at Piazza del Fico, this one is for authentic Italian lovers. Simple food served with local fayre. Pizza should feature on your food of choice here. It’s delicious.

Piazza Navona Map

How to get to the Piazza Navona Rome ?

The Piazza Navona is not directly located near any metro, however many of the hop on hop off bus services do usually stop nearby (buy your pass here).

The nearest metro is about 15 minutes by foot at the Spagna station. The best way however is to get the bus – the number 40, 64 and 60 busses will take you the closest.

If you want to get around Rome by public transport, you should consider a travel pass, such as the 72-hours card. And if you're planning to buy the Roma Pass that includes free entrance to Rome top attractions, you'll be able to use transports for free!

Here're some options you might consider:

  • Take a taxi from Rome airports to the Rome Piazza Navona

A taxi from Rome Ciampiano or FCO airports should cost you no more than €50. Do not pay more! Check out our extensive guide to Rome’s taxi culture here[RC1] 

  • Bus from Termini to Piazza Navona

Take line 64 from Termini and alight at C.so Vittorio Emanuele/Navona. It is just a 2 minute walk from there, and will cost just €2

  •  Bus from Borghese Museum to Piazza Navona    

Take line 490 from nearby the Villa Borghese at Victor Hugo/Museo Bilotti and change to the 628 at P.le Flaminio. Each ticket will cost about €2

  •  Nearest train stations.

Both the Colosseo Metro and the Termini Station are less than a 30 minute walk

Piazza Navona FAQs

faq roma pass travel blog

What to do at Piazza Navona?

From checking out the museum of the stadium below ground, to admiring the stunning baroque architecture, Piazza Navona is a great stop. People watch, throw coins in the fountain and maybe grab a coffee in the square.

Who built the Piazza Navona?

The original stadium was commissioned by Emperor Domitian and finished in 86AD. Later, Pope Innocent X was instrumental in designing and influencing the modern Piazza Navona we know today.

What is Piazza Navona in Rome?

The Piazza Navona in Rome is a huge square, built on the site of a former games stadium. Beautiful Baroque architecture and stunning fountains help make for a really cool atmosphere.

Where are the best places to eat near Piazza Navona?

There are dozens of excellent traditional restaurants within the Piazza Navona (including Bernini Restaurant and Saltimbocca). Here though, a pizza can cost over €20, so if you are on a budget head out of the square to the side streets.

Where is Piazza Navona in the Rome map?

You will find the Piazza Navona west of the Trevi district on the map of central Rome.

Where to stay in Piazza Navona?

If you are on a budget, look to the streets around the Piazza Navona that will offer slightly better pricing. Or, why not stay in an Airbnb or a rental apartment for more freedom?

Conclusion

Now you are armed with all the information you need to help you best enjoy your trip to the Piazza Navona ! Pick one of the Piazza Navona hotels, organise your spending money and get planning the rest of your trip here!