Good for: people watching in the piazza
Not good for: quiet
Lonely Planet review for Piazza Navona
With its baroque palazzi and extravagant fountains, pavement cafes, hawkers and surging crowds, stadium-sized Piazza Navona is Rome's most iconic public square. Laid out on the ruins of an arena built by Domitian in AD 86, it was paved over in the 15th century and for almost 300 years hosted the city's main market.
Of the piazza's three fountains, Bernini's high-camp Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) dominates. Depicting personifications of the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Plate rivers, it's festooned with a palm tree, lion and horse and topped by an obelisk. Legend has it that the figure of the Nile is shielding his eyes from the Chiesa di Sant'Agnese in Agone, designed by Bernini's bitter rival, Borromini. The truth, more boringly, is that Bernini completed his fountain two years before his contemporary started work on the facade and the gesture indicates that the source of the Nile was unknown at the time.
At the northern end of the piazza is the 19th-century Fontana del Nettuno, while the Fontana del Moro to the south was designed in 1576. Bernini added the Moor holding a dolphin in the mid-17th century, and the surrounding Tritons are 19th-century copies. Piazza Navona's largest building is the 17th-century Palazzo Pamphilj, built for Pope Innocent X and now home to the Brazilian Embassy.