For a variety of reasons, this piazza is one that you simply cannot miss. The large, oblong shape dates back to the 1st century A.D. and a stadium that the emperor Domitian built in order to accommodate 30,000 spectators. Today, the gorgeous public space is filled with artists who will draw your portrait and vendors selling their wares, milling around with Italians and tourists alike. The piazza is ringed with Renaissance palaces and restaurants with wonderful outdoor eating areas. If you order a drink, you can sit as long as you want and soak in the sunshine. Prepare to be serenaded by roaming musicians or approached by gypsy children asking for your change. You may even see a magic show or other performance artist working for small donations from the crowd.
But the centerpiece of Piazza Navona is the Fountain of the Rivers, a masterpiece built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1651. As you walk around it, you'll notice that it showcases the people, animals and vegetation representing the locations of four great rivers of the world – the Nile, Danube, Plata and Ganges. Behind the fountain, you'll find the church St. Agnese in Agone (St. Agnes in Agony), named for the Saint who was martyred on the spot in 1123. The current building was created by Borromini in 1652, who was a contemporary of Bernini's and said to be his rival as well. In fact, legend has it that Bernini purposely designed the figure in the Fountain of the Rivers closest to the church to be “shielding” his eyes from the sight of the rival Borromini creation.
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