See the iconic twin churches and ancient Flaminio obelisk at Piazza del Popolo.
Visit the ‘People’s Square’, and explore an elegant and historic piazza that hides a dark past of public executions.
- See an ancient Egyptian obelisk carved roughly 3500 years ago standing in the centre of the square.
- Wander between the twin churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto, and enjoy the fantastic example of Baroque symmetry before you.
- Admire the collection of neoclassical fountains in the piazza: the Fountain of the Lions, the Fountain of Neptune, and the Fountain of the Goddess Roma.
What to See and Do
Piazza del Popolo is one of the most beautiful and well-known squares in all of Rome. This is what you can expect to find on your visit:
This 36-metre-high ancient obelisk is one of a handful scattered around Rome. Originally from the major city of Heliopolis in ancient Egypt, the obelisk now stands proudly at the centre of the piazza.
The ‘Flaminian’ obelisk has been dated back to 1300BC, during the time of Seti I. It was delivered to Rome in 10BC on the orders of Augustus and displayed in the Circus Maximus.
It didn’t find its current home in the Piazza del Popolo until the 16th century when under Pope Sixtus V, the obelisk was recovered from its half-buried state and restored to its former glory. It was finally erected in the square in 1589.
Fountain of the Lions
The Fountain of the Lions would perhaps be more aptly described as the Fountains of the Lions, as it is a design that is comprised of four separate mini-fountains.
The four marble lion fountains stand guard at the base of the Egyptian obelisk, facing outward to every corner of the square. Architect Giuseppe Valadier designed the fountain in the 19th century, adding the lions to the steps of the obelisk in 1828.
Santa Maria dei Miracoli
One-half of the famous twin churches of Piazza del Popolo, Santa Maria dei Miracoli, is a 17th-century Carlo Rainaldi design built to help make an especially dramatic entryway for Via del Corso.
An example of the ideal of symmetry in Baroque architecture, the church is typical for the era. Though the interior of the church may not seem that impressive next to some of the other churches and basilicas in Rome, it is still worth a look if you have the time. When facing the two churches from the piazza, Santa Maria dei Miracoli is the church to the right.
Fountain of Neptune
Not as famous as the other Fountain of Neptune in Piazza Navona, but just as beautifully crafted: this fountain is a design of Giovanni Ceccarini and was sculpted between 1822 and 1823.
The fountain is a tribute to one of the most important gods in Ancient Rome, Neptune, the god of the sea. Neptune cuts an impressive figure, standing tall with his trident in hand – the marble sculpture is arguably the most monumental and magnificent statue in the entire piazza.
Santa Maria in Montesanto
Though ‘twins’, the two churches are not identical. There are slight differences, like the shape of the bell tower or the number of chapels within them.
But it is their similarities, not their differences, that make these twin churches worth visiting. Alone, neither are particularly jaw-dropping – though both are lovely examples of Baroque architecture – but together, they carve a striking image.
You can see that they were designed to impress; framing Via del Corso, the twin churches epitomise the elegance and power of Roman architecture to those entering the city.
Porta del Popolo
Porta del Popolo has its origin as the northern gate of the Aurelian Walls, though the iteration we see today is from the 15th century, built by Pope Sixtus IV on the site of the ancient ruins.
Though the northern gate has a history spanning thousands of years, its relation to the piazza had to wait until the Middle Ages to develop. Piazza del Popolo wouldn’t look as it does currently if this ancient gate didn’t hold such an important place in medieval Rome. Traders and visitors to the city would normally enter through this gate.
It was decided that to impress these foreign newcomers, the first sight they would see – Piazza del Popolo – should be a fine example of Roman elegance, architecture, and history.
Fountain of the Goddess Roma
There are two fountains dedicated to the Goddess Roma in Rome, one in Piazza del Campidoglio and another here, at the Piazza del Popolo.
You will find this fountain on the east side of the piazza, opposing the Fountain of Neptune at a distance. The marble sculpture was a Giuseppe Valadier design and was built in 1823.
At this time, neoclassical design was at its peak – beautiful marble statues and fountains such as this can be found all over Rome; some are ancient, and some, like those in Piazza del Popolo, are relatively recent additions.
Basilica Parrocchiale Santa Maria del Popolo
An elegant – though rather plain – exterior hides lavish displays of art and opulence inside the basilica. The final selection of the three churches in Piazza del Popolo sits to the north of the square, close to the Porta del Popolo.
If you can enter only one of the churches in the square, it should be this one.
Exquisite works of art from many of Rome’s greatest Renaissance figures can be found inside; Caravaggio, Raphael, and Bernini are only a few of the artists involved. The undeniable highlight is the two Caravaggio paintings: ‘Conversion on the Way to Damascus’ and the incredible ‘Cruxification of Saint Peter’.
Piazza del Popolo is very central, and all the major landmarks can be easily reached; the Spanish Steps are the closest, at less than a 10-minute walk away.
Did You Know That: 4 Interesting Facts
- Up until the final executions in 1864, public executions took place in the piazza.
- The two churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto are almost identical but do have slight differences both in their interior and exterior appearances.
- Though ‘Piazza del Popolo’ translates to the ‘People’s Square’, the origin of the name is thought to be from the poplar trees that once stood in place of the square.
- According to legend, Emperor Nero was buried beneath a walnut tree in the area that would later become Piazza del Popolo.
Learn a little more about the history of Piazza del Popolo with this succinct timeline:
- 1477. The Basilica Santa Maria del Popolo is rebuilt over an 11th-century chapel.
- 1562. Pope Pius IV ordered the construction of a new gateway over the Aurelian wall ruins, and the Porta del Popolo we see today is constructed.
- 1589. The Egyptian obelisk was moved from the Circus Maximus and erected in the centre of the piazza.
- 1662. The twin churches were built by Carlo Rainaldi the architect.
- 1824. Work on the neoclassical redesign of the piazza, led by architect Giuseppe Valadier, is completed.
- 1864. The final public executions on Piazza del Popolo take place.
Address: Piazza del Popolo, Piazza del Popolo , 00187 Roma, Italy · view larger map