We found ourselves in Piazza Navona, a lovely little square full of life with street artists, selling their paintings, imposing churches and palaces, and inviting cafes and restaurants all around. It didn’t take us long to choose a restaurant with a ring-side view of everything that was going on.
Piazza Navona is an oval-shaped square which was once the site of the Stadium of Domitian, a popular venue where games and competitions were held in the 1st century AD.
The Italian architects loved a good fountain, and in the middle and at either end of Piazza Navona, there are three. The one in the middle is my favourite, just because it’s so elaborate and there’s always a good story behind it. It’s the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The four rivers are the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube, and the Rio de la Plata.
If you look at the statue of the Rio de la Plata, it appears that he is shielding this eyes from something. The story goes that he can’t bear to look at the church of St Agnese, built by Francesco Borromini, for fear that it will come tumbling down on him. Borromini was a rival of Bernini’s, but rivalry aside, Bernini built this fountain way before the church, so make what you will of the legend. The fountain is topped off with a towering Egyptian obelisk. There is a lot more to this fountain, lots of smaller sculptures and figurines, and if you look on the internet it’s fascinating the way Bernini (and others) told stories through their work. When I go anywhere I usually have my guidebook to hand, to give me information about what I’m looking at, but I enjoyed just being in the here and now with my parents.
At either end of the piazza is the Fontana del Moro (Moor Fountain) and Fontana del Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune) both by Giancomo della Porta.
We ordered a selection of meats, cheese, olives and bread, all washed down by a glass of wine or two. It was just perfect sitting there watching the world go by, in the shadows of the grandiose Baroque architecture. Such a small place but big on atmosphere and architectural creations.
After our delicious lunch, we took a slow walk through the square to find a taxi, only to be approached by a man selling handmade wooden fruit bowls. He complimented my dad, saying how lucky he was to have two beautiful women on his arms, we laughed along as my dad put him right by saying yes, this is my wife and my daughter! Unperturbed, he proceeded to shake hands with us and in our palms he deposited a bracelet, how nice! But, realising that he wasn’t going to get a sale from us, snatched the bracelets back and walked off to find his next victim. Honestly, his attitude changed very quickly from being all smiles and friendly banter, to surly and almost aggressive. I can imagine how he must have felt with people constantly saying no! I’ve been in sales before, so I know how he feels 🙂 but I was always gracious.
We made it back to our digs, had our first evening out (this was still only our first day in Rome) and an early night because we were up early again for our visit to the Colosseum.