/ The Rome Traveler
Rome — By Andy Hayes on September 7, 2010 at 11:55 pm
Filed under: attraction, city guide, featuredarticle2, history, neighborhood, top-feature

Piazza Navona, the Heart of Rome

Rome, in many ways, is just like the travel videos and picture postcards portray it.  Dust whirling up in the streets as mopeds roar by, towering monuments and edifices from long gone by, and throngs of tourists and locals filling the streets. Cliche, maybe?  A great travel experience?  Definitely.

To really enjoy Rome, like many places, you have to just throw yourself into it.  Head first preferably.  The perfect place to do just that is Piazza Navona (map), a square surrounded by bars, shops, and restaurants that doubles as both a meeting point and a massive social gathering.   This was once home to the largest stadium in ancient Rome, hence why such a large open space was left open in the city center.  The raucous action continues today – here are my tips for enjoying this fantastic square, the heart of modern Rome.

Eat and Drink

You’ll pay a hefty premium to enjoy a cool drink and some tasty food on Piazza Navona, but this is one of the few times that I say do it, because the atmosphere is certainly worth it.  It seems the names of the places change – that or my memory fails me every time I return to the square – but nonetheless here are two places to keep your eye out for:

  • Tre Scalini gelato:  This little place is known for their bowl of sugary heaven, tartufo.  Rich chocolate gelato covered in chocolate sauce.  And if you really are on a budget, they have a takeaway window, so you can have it and enjoy it for less on a nearby bench. (map)
  • Caffee Bernini:  a solid choice for your typical choices like pasta and pizza, with that classic “over the top” Italian service. (map)

If you walk down the alleyways, you’ll find lots of other little bars and restaurants as well.

Accommodation by iStopOver.com
Elegant accomodation in Rome
Just a few steps from the Piazza Navona, this apartment from $425/night is in a nice 17th century building.

Learn

When I was young, many of my fellow students would take week long trips Rome to learn about Roman history.  (Our teacher taught Latin to help reinforce English grammar skills, hence the connection).  If you’re in Piazza Navona, you’ll get plenty of history.  As I mentioned, it was formerly a stadium in Roman times.  Now, it’s a mix of various use buildings.

The Civic Museum of Rome is also in the square, housed in a Neoclassical palace.  It took forever to finish this palace – literally, the site was purchased in 1790 and construction started shortly thereafter; eight years later Napoleon’s invasion halted completion.  Work continued in various fits and starts until the family ran out of money, and in 1871 the Italian government took possession.  It was Mussolini’s political headquarters, a refugee camp, and then the museum you can explore today.

The church you see in the square is the Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore.  A church has stood here since 1450 but the current facade was finished in the 17th century.  (There are few original furnishings inside – it’s best left admired from afar.)

And last but not least, you can’t miss the fountain and Egyptian Obelisk that dominates one end of the square.  The sculptures at its base represent the four major rivers of the known continents at that time: the Danube, the River Plate, the Ganges, and the Nile.

Sit

I close with my favorite activity to enjoy on Piazza Navona:  sit.  And people watch.  The square has lots of foot traffic, so from any vantage point you can post the polished attire of wealthy Romans to the slightly worn faces of tired travellers whose feet are finding out just how big Rome really is.  With or without a cup of coffee, it is one of the best places to people watch, in the whole world.  Go and enjoy it.

Photo Credit: Rafel Miro

Related places:
  1. A
    Piazza Navona
    View Details and Book
  2. B
    Ristorante 3 Scalini Gest, RUA
    , , , , ,
    View Details and Book
  3. C
    Caff Bernini
    44 Piazza Navona, Rome, , 00186, Italy
    View Details and Book
Tags: attraction, city guide, featuredarticle2, history, neighborhood, top-feature


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