The Piazza del Popolo is one of the biggest squares of Rome, and can be found just inside what used to be the Porta Flaminia, now the Porta del Popolo, of the Aurelian Walls. Outside the walls the Via Flaminia started, which connected Rome to Rimini.
Piazza del Popolo Rome
Piazza del Popolo means “People’s Square”, but the name derives form the poplars that used to grow there and gave their name to the Santa Maria del Popolo Church in the northeast corner of the piazza.
The square was meant impressive, since it was the first thing a traveler from the north laid his eyes on when entering the city from the north.
The way the Piazza del Popolo looks now is the work of the neoclassical architect Giuseppe Valadier. Originally the shape of the square was trapezoidal and was centred on the Via Flaminia, but Valadier created the two semicircles around the piazza and the viale (lane) leading up to the balustrated overlook from the Pincio.
The centre of the Piazza del Popolo is dominated by the Egyptian obelisk of Rameses II, which brought to Rome in 10 BC. In 1589 Domenico Fontana moved it from its original site, the Circus Maximus, to its present spot. In 1818 the fountains in the form of lions were added and the original fountain was moved to the Piazza Nicosia.
Having one’s back turned towards the Porta del Popolo, one looks towards the so-called tridente, the three streets branching out from the piazza and separated in the beginning by the almost-twin churches Santa Maria in Montesanto (on the left) and Santa Maria dei Miracoli. From left to right, the streets are the Via del Babuino, the Via del Corso and the Via di Ripetta.
The two buildings framing the tridente were created in an identical way by Valadier and a third similar palazzo was constructed next to the Santa Maria del Popolo. Two identical walls on the west and east sides completed his design. The trees behind the western walls were planted in order to hide the buildings behind them, which did not match Valadier‘s design.
His most important renovations were the carriageway and the pedestrian steps leading up to the Pincio and the triple-arched nymphaeum below the lookout point.
Valadier had also made plans for fountains, but since the Acqua Vergine Nuovo aquaduct was not completed until the 1820s, these were not actually built and the fountains on the east and west side of the piazza were created by Giovanni Ceccarini.
Until 1826, the Piazza del Popolo used to be a place for public executions.