Tuesday, June 19, 2012
When the ancient Romans built their towns, they began with a grid based on two roads and where they crossed was considered sacred ground. Here there was a majestic temple, a civic forum and shops. Today, in Rome, an Italian piazza is still the centre of public life, a mosaic of the colour and vitality that this city represents.
Our favourite piazza is the gargantuan Piazza Navona in Rome, thronging with life night and day. This piazza is ringed by brown and umber buildings, three magnificent fountains, and filled with caricature and portrait artists, buskers, and flocks of pigeons, street shows and fashionable alfresco restaurants. This used to be a stadium- the scene of Chariot racing, medieval jousts and games during the reign of Emperor Domitian.
The largest fountain here is the Quattro Fiumi, by Lorenzo Bernini, where there is an ancient, red granite obelisk, and four figures, representing the rivers in each of the Continents. According to a local story, Bernini carved the arm of the statue lifted up, to avoid seeing the church, which had been constructed by his arch rival Borromini!
A walk from the Piazza Navona takes us to the famed Da Bafetto Pizzeria for a genuine wood fire pizza. Crammed in a table with many others, it’s short on ambience but more than makes up in taste.
Opposite the Pantheon is the Piazza Della Rotunda. Like all self-respecting squares, it has a fountain too. Sparkling water spouts out from grotesque masks and elongated dolphins, topped by an ancient Egyptian Obelisk, designed by Giacomo Della Porta in the 16th Century. This magical square, lined with cafes and gelato shops, is a favourite hangout of the young at night.
I also fell in love with the Piazza di Spagna with the iconic Spanish Steps where, Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn meet, in Roman Holiday, after an adventurous but chaste night spent together.
The vibrant Piazza Del Popolo was for centuries, the northern entrance to Rome. This big oval piazza has an imposing, three thousand year old Egyptian Obelisk brought by Augustus, and fountains that represent the four seasons. This is the favoured local spot for political rallies, open air exhibitions and concerts due to its dimensions. The church of Santa Maria Del Popolo is tucked into the gates of the piazza with two Caravaggio masterpieces and the Chigi Chapel designed by Raphael (remember Angels and demons?)
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