Lonely Planet review
With its ornate fountains, baroque palazzi and colourful cast of street artists, hawkers and tourists, Piazza Navona is Rome’s most celebrated square. Built over the ruins of the 1st-century Stadio di Domiziano (Domitian’s Stadium), it is centred on Bernini’s showy Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), representing the rivers Nile, Ganges, Danube and Plate.
For almost 300 years from the time it was paved over in the 15th century, the piazza was home to Rome's main market. And while the market traders have long since gone the crowds continue to come to bask in its baroque beauty.
Of the piazza's three fountains, Bernini's high-camp Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi dominates. Depicting personifications of four great 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.