Piazza Navona

Top choice piazza in Centro Storico
Image by Dragos Cosmin photos / Getty Images

With its showy fountains, baroque palazzi and colourful cast of street artists, hawkers and tourists, Piazza Navona is central Rome’s elegant showcase square. Built over the 1st-century Stadio di Domiziano, it was paved over in the 15th century and for almost 300 years hosted the city's main market. Its grand centrepiece is Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, a flamboyant fountain featuring an Egyptian obelisk and muscular personifications of the rivers Nile, Ganges, Danube and Plate.

Legend has it that the Nile figure is shielding his eyes to avoid looking at the nearby Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone designed by Bernini’s hated rival Borromini. In truth, Bernini had completed his fountain two years before Borromini started work on the church's facade and the gesture simply indicated that the source of the Nile was unknown at the time.

The Fontana del Moro at the southern end of the square was designed by Giacomo della Porta in 1576. Bernini added the Moor holding a dolphin in the mid-17th century, but the surrounding Tritons are 19th-century copies. At the northern end of the piazza, the 19th-century Fontana del Nettuno depicts Neptune fighting with a sea monster, surrounded by sea nymphs.

The piazza's largest building is Palazzo Pamphilj, built for Pope Innocent X between 1644 and 1650, and now home to the Brazilian embassy.