Piazza di Spagna and Spanish steps in Rome, you have probably heard about the name but have you ever wondered why the name comes up with Spain?
Rome’ one of the most popular squares with its Spanish Steps overlooked by the Trinita Dei Monte Church. The square is located in the city centre and the main shopping street, Via dei Condotti. Let’s have a look at some fun and interesting facts about Piazza di Spagna in Rome.
1. The monumental stairway has a total of 135 steps (the slightly elevated drainage system is often mistaken for the first step).
2. The stairway was designed by architects Francesco de Sanctis and Alessandro Specchi.
3. At the base of Piazza di Spagna you can find the Baroque fountain named Fontana della Barcaccia, “Fountain of the humble Boat,” built in 1627-29 by Pietro Bernini, who was the father of his more famous son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
4. Bernini’s design, which shows a flooded boat at the center of a basin, was inspired by the flooding of the Tiber River in 1598, when a small boat was stranded here after the water subsided.
5. The Spanish Steps gets their name from being in the vicinity of the original Spanish Embassy, which was located at Piazza di Spagna.
6. At the end of the 15th century, only a small chapel existed on the hill where now stands the larger Trinita dei Monti Church. In 1495, French King Louis XII commissioned the erection of a new church, replacing the small chapel. Construction started in 1502 and dragged on for decades. It was finally consecrated in 1585 by Pope Sixtus V.
7. The Obelisk at the top of the steps is one of the 12 Egyptian obelisks that are located in Rome.
8. The Spanish Steps were built from a gift of 20,000 Scudi, which was the Italian currency at the time, by French diplomat Étienne Gueffier in 1655.
9. The Spanish Steps were a link from the Bourbon Spanish Embassy and the Trinità dei Monti Church that was under the patronage of the Bourbon Kings of France.
10. On the corner on the right of the Spanish Steps is the house where English poet John Keats lived until his death in 1821. He died of Tuberculosis at the age of 25. The house is now a museum dedicated to his memory, full of memorabilia of the English romantic generation.
His tomb is also in Rome, at Non-Catholic Cemetery by the Pyramid of Cestius (Piramide Cestia).
11. The steps is one of the longest and widest staircases in all of Europe.
12. Eating, drinking and since 2019 even sitting on the steps is strictly forbidden in order to keep the staircase clean.
13. Work on the Spanish Steps began in 1723 and was opened in 1725.
14. The obelisk just in front of the church, Trinita dei Monti, was originally located in the Gardens of Sallust. In 1789 it was moved to its current location by the request of Pope Pius VI. It is actually a small scale copy of the obelisk to Pharaoh Rameses II, now in Piazza del Popolo.
15. The two bell towers on Trinita dei Monti were designed as a reminder of many French cathedrals, although their final appearance is only vaguely Gothic: two clocks were placed on them: one indicated the French (international) hour, while the other one followed the Italian hour, which was replaced by a sundial after 1847 when the Italian system was abandoned.
16. Trinita dei Monti houses some work by Daniele da Volterra, a pupil of Michelangelo, including his best known painting, “Descent from the Cross.”
17. The old name of Piazza di Spagna was Piazza della Trinità.
18. The small columns and the globes at the beginning of the steps were decorated with the fleurs-de-lis of the French Kings together with the chequered eagle of Pope Innocent XIII, the reigning Pope.
19. Piazza di Spagna became known as the Strangers Quarter, as it was located near Porta del Popolo, which in the XVIIIth century was the main entrance to Rome; many inns were positioned near the square to cater for foreign travellers, who were glad to find a conveniently placed accommodation after a long and tiring journey.
20. If you look closely at the Fontana della Barcaccia you will see both the sun and the bee ornamentation which is a symbol of the Bernini family and a reference to Pope Urban VIII who commissioned the work of the fountain.
To reach the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps) from Alessandro Palace & Bar (Via Vicenza 42, 00185, Rome):
Take Metro Line A from Roma Termini station for Battistini direction and get off at Spagna stop.
It takes about 15 minutes.
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