Piazza del Popolo
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The Piazza del Popolo, looking west from the Pincio.
Piazza del Popolo is a large square in Rome, Italy. The name in modern Italian literally means "People's Square", but historically it derives from the poplars (populus in Latin, pioppo in Italian) after which the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, in the northeast corner of the piazza, takes its name.
The Piazza lies inside the northern gate in the Aurelian Walls, once the Porta Flaminia of ancient Rome, and now called Porta del Popolo. This was the starting point of the Via Flaminia, the road to Ariminum (modern Rimini) and the most important route to the north. At the same time, before the age of railroads, it was the traveller's first view of Rome upon arrival. For centuries, the Piazza del Popolo was a place for public executions, the last of which took place in 1826.
The entrance of the Tridente from Piazza del Popolo, defined by the "twin" churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto (left, built 1662-75) and Santa Maria dei Miracoli (right, built 1675-79). The Via del Corso exits between the two churches.
One side of the Fontana dell'Obelisco.
The layout of the piazza today was designed in neoclassical style between 1811 and 1822 by the architect Giuseppe Valadier, who removed a modest fountain by Giacomo Della Porta, erected in 1572, and demolished some insignificant buildings and haphazard high screening walls to form two semicircles, reminiscent of Bernini's plan for St. Peter's Square, replacing the original cramped trapezoidal square centred on the Via Flaminia. Valadier's Piazza del Popolo, however, incorporated the verdure of trees as an essential element; he conceived his space in a third dimension, expressed in the building of the viale that leads up to the balustraded overlook from the Pincio (above, right).
An Egyptian obelisk of Sety I (later erected by Rameses II) from Heliopolis stands in the centre of the Piazza. 3 sides of the obelisk are carved by Sety I and the fourth side, carved by Ramesses II. The obelisk, known as the obelisco Flaminio or the Popolo Obelisk, is the second oldest and one of the tallest obelisks in Rome (some 24 m high, or 36 m including its plinth). The obelisk was brought to Rome in 10 BC by order of Augustus and originally set up in the Circus Maximus. It was re-erected here in the Piazza by the architect-engineer Domenico Fontana in 1589 as part of the urban plan of Sixtus V. The Piazza also formerly contained a central fountain, which was moved to the Piazza Nicosia in 1818, when fountains in the form of Egyptian-style lions were added around the base of the obelisk. This obelisk was originally a set of two but the 'mate' has not been found with a degree of certainty.
Looking from the north (illustration, right), three streets branch out from the Piazza, forming the so-called "trident" (il Tridente): the Via del Corso in the centre, the Via del Babuino on the left (opened in 1525 as the Via Paolina) and the Via di Ripetta (opened by Leo X in 1518 as the Via Leonina) on the right. Twin churches (the chiese gemelle) of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (1681) and Santa Maria in Montesanto (1679), begun by Carlo Rainaldi and completed by Bernini and Carlo Fontana, define the junctions of the roads. Close scrutiny of the twin churches reveals that they are not mere copies of one another, as they would have been in a Neoclassical project, but vary in their details, offering variety within their symmetrical balance in Baroque fashion.
To the south, the central Via del Corso follows the course extended beyond the city gate as the ancient Roman Via Flaminia, coming from the Capitol and the forum. The Via Flaminia became known as the Via Lata in the Middle Ages, before becoming today's Via del Corso and leads to the Piazza Venezia. The Via di Ripetta leads past the Mausoleum of Augustus to the Tiber, where the riverside landing called the Porto di Ripetta was located until the late nineteenth century. The Via del Babuino ("Baboon"), linking to Piazza di Spagna, takes its name from a grotesque sculpture of Silenus that gained the popular name of "the Baboon".
To the north of the Piazza stand the Porta del Popolo, leading to the Piazzale Flaminio, and the ancient church of Santa Maria del Popolo. The Porta del Popolo was reconstructed to the current appearance by Pope Alexander VII in 1655, to welcome Queen Christina of Sweden to Rome after her conversion to Roman Catholicism and abdication. It was designed by Bernini: whereas such festive structures elsewhere were built of weather-resistant plaster, in Rome the structure was more permanently executed in stone. Opposite Santa Maria del Popolo stands a Carabinieri station, with a dome reflecting that of the church.
Fontana del Nettuno.
In his urbanistic project, Valadier constructed the matching palazzi that provide a frame for the scenography of the twin churches and hold down two corners of his composition. A third palazzo he set to face and matched low structure screening the flank of Santa Maria del Popolo, with its fine Early Renaissance façade, together holding down the two northern corners. Valadier outlined this newly-defined oval forecourt to the city of Rome with identical sweeps of wall, forming curving exedra-lke spaces. Behind the western one, a screen of trees masks the unassorted fronts of buildings beyond.
The aqueduct carrying the Acqua Vergine Nuovo was completed in the 1820s, and its water provided the opportunity for fountains and their basins that offered the usual public water supply for the rione. Ever since the Renaissance such terminal fountains also provided an occasion for the grand terminal water show called in Rome a mostra. "What makes a fountain a mostra is not essentially its size or splendor, but its specific designation as the fountain that is a public memorial to the whole achievement of the aqueduct." Valadier had planned for fountains in the upper tier of the Pincio slope, but the were not carried out, in part for lack of water.
Fountains by Giovanni Ceccarini (1822–23), with matching compositions of a central figure flanked by two attendant figures, stand on each side of the Piazza to the east and west, flanked by neoclassical statues of The Seasons (1828).. The Fontana di Nettuno (Fountain of Neptune)  stands on the west side, Neptune with his trident is accompanied by two dolphins. Rome between the Tiber and the Aniene on the east side, against the steep slope of the Pincio, represents the terminal mostra of the aqueduct. Dea Roma armed with lance and helmet, and in front is the she-wolf feeding Romulus and Remus.
At the center of the piazza is the Fontana dell' Obelisco: a group of four mini fountains each comprising a lion on a stepped plinth, surround the obelisk.
Urbanisation in three dimensions
Steps lead from the Piazza del Popolo to the Pincio to the east.
Valadier's masterstroke was in linking the piazza with the heights of the Pincio, the Pincian Hill of ancient Rome, which overlooked the space from the east. He swept away informally terraced gardens that belonged to the Augustinian monastery connected with Santa Maria del Popolo. In its place he created a carriage drive that doubled back upon itself and pedestrian steps leading up beside a waterfall to the Pincio park, where a balustraded lookout, supported by a triple-arched nymphaeum is backed by a wide gravelled opening set on axis with the piazza below; formally-planted bosquets of trees flank the open space. The planted Pinco in turn provides a link to the Villa Borghese gardens.
Until quite recently[specify], the Piazza del Popolo was choked with traffic in a sea of car parking. Today, it is a pedestrian zone.
- ^ Valadier published his first proposal for the Piazza del Popolo in 1794; the final proposal as built appeared in 1816, when the works were already in progress.
- ^ Della Porta's fontana dello trullo has been cleaned and re-erected in in piazza Nicosia.
- ^ See the festive tradition of the royal entry.
- ^ Peter J. Aicher, "Terminal Display Fountains ("Mostre") and the Aqueducts of Ancient Rome" Phoenix 47.4 (Winter 1993:339-352), p 339. Aicher makes a case for the terminal fountains as features of modern Rome, but not of ancient Rome, as commonly assumed in the standard works listed in his bibliography p. 339.
- ^ a b M.G. Tolomeo, "Le fontane del piazza del Popolo e la mostra del nuovo aquedotto Vergine elevato", Il Trionfo dell'acqua (Rome, 1986:240-43).
- ^ Touring Club Italiano, Roma e dintorni 1965:181, gives the names of the four sculptors responsible: Filippo Guaccarini (Spring), Francesco Massimiliano Laboureur (Summer), Achille Stocchi (Autumn), and Felice Raini (Winter).
- ^ This fountain should not be confused with the Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza Navona.
- Giedion, Siegfried, Space, Time and Architecture pp. 151–54
- Thais-Rome: Fountains
- Roberto Piperno "Piazza del Popolo"
- Riccardo Cigola, "Piazza del Popolo"
- Piazza del Popolo
- Rome and Piazza del Popolo
This page was last modified on 14 February 2011 at 18:44.
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