Rome Travel Guide

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Tuesday, October 17, 2023

36 Hours Around Piazza Navona

 A friend recently asked us for suggestions of what to do around Piazza Navona and Campo de' Fiori. She was clear that she and her companion would be in Rome only 3 days, had seen the big sights and did not want to go back to those this time, and they did not want to do much walking. So maybe this is "36 Hours in Piazza Navona and Campo de' Fiori." 

We put our heads together, created a list and a map for her, and enjoyed the exercise enough that we have made it into 2 blog posts, the first on Piazza Navona and the second on the Campo. Here's our map of Piazza Navona for starters, and you'll see #1 is Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers - not exactly Rome the Second Time, but a good place to begin any walking around.

Below is the code we gave our friends (with a few elaborations; and note she has been a French teacher - so there are a few Francophile hints here) for our suggested meanderings in and around the piazza. Bear in mind our idiosyncrasies, and that we leave all restaurant suggestions to Katie Parla (

Piazza Navona and environs:

1.         Fountain of the 4 Rivers (Fontana dei fiumi – Bernini)

Piazza Navona can be a magical space, especially when no one's around, like at dawn.

Piazza Navona at dawn. Borromini's Sant'Agnese in Agone (see #2, below) is at left. 

But not always. In 2014, we encountered Bernini's lovely fountain while city workers were repairing the stone pavement around it. And the piazza has its sometimes tawdry, commercial side. 

2.         Sant’Agnese in Agone – (church) by Borromini  

            So between #1 and #2 here you get a feel for the great rivalry of architects/sculptors: Bernini  - the sculptor who was an architect - and Borromini, the architect whose architecture is sculpture. You'll have to look up for yourself the apocryphal story that one of Bernini's figures in the 4 Rivers Fountain has his head turned away so as not to see Borromini's church (the statue was erected first).

3.         Embassy of Brazil – often has art shows you just walk into. We like these one-off exhibits that often are open all day, are free, get you inside a classic palazzo, and often are very good - usually contemporary -  art.

4.        Palazzo Braschi – excellent museum (generally Rome, 17th century on), sweet café – easy to walk thru – often free shows on the ground floor – beautiful cortile - - this article says “best museum in Rome you’ve never visited." Re the free shows: it was here we learned about Raffaele di Vico and his extraordinary contributions to Rome's cityscape in the 20th century, and saw a moving photo/quotation exhibit of women trapped in abusive relationships. As noted, the shows are wide-ranging.

5.         Portuguese Institute – We have been to shows here (met the architect Julio Lafuente one evening - we are taken with his buildings), but can’t locate it nor a site for it – walking around Piazza Navona just looking is a pleasure anyway (if you can avoid all the hawkers).

6.        Stadio di Domiziano (Piazza Navona was built over it) - underground archeological site – small and interesting – not sure of opening times; sometimes has exhibits as well. This is a good way to get your ancient history fix, and to learn more about Piazza Navona -

7.         Tre Scalini tartufi – just go and get one of those to split – amazing gelato dessert – make sure you go to this corner and not across the little street to a copy cat. Tre Scalini is the real deal. We wrote about the tartufo war in 2010:

8.        Hotel Raphael – one of the city's best rooftop bars and lobby – interesting political stories about it too – on the way to Santa Maria della Pace and Chiostro Bramante -

The imposing exterior of the Hotel Raphael,
as it was 15 years ago.

9.         Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pace – lovely, limited hours

10.      Bramante Chiostro & exhibition space -  Beautiful cloisters and has a café, plus current show is Pistoletto –the contemporary Italian artist famed for his use of mirrors.

Bramante Cloister  - can't recall the
name of the show but fairly
certain those 2 "head" sculptures
are by the Spanish artist Jaume Plensa

A work by Pistoletto--this one at the State Department.

11.      Piazza di Pasquino – the original “talking statue” -

Pasquino, right, with his messages relegated to a board next to him.

12.      Cul de Sac – on Piazza di Pasquino – considered one of the best wine bars in Rome – has food – don’t go to the salad place by mistake

13.      Otherwise bookshop – English one, just steps from Piazza di Pasquino  - on via del Governo Vecchio – nice street with boutiques, tho’ getting a bit gentrified

14.      Caravaggio – San Luigi dei Francesi – 3 amazing Caravaggio paintings – the French church in Rome

15.      Caravaggio – Basilica di Sant’Agostino – 1 Caravaggio – and the once Papal library next door is gorgeous – worth just walking up and looking at it (Biblioteca Angelica)

16.      Sant’Ivo – a Borromini masterpiece (church)

17.      Palazzo Napoleonico -  interesting for its French connection - it is NOT Palazzo Altieri – the entrance to Napoleonico is on the Lungotevere.

18.      Baracco museum – ancient sculpture – we think it’s free – we’ve never been in it!


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