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99. Valadier's Piazza del Popolo (People's Square)... with no people!

Updated: Mar 22, 2020

By Giulio D'Ercole -

On the other side of the beginning of Via Flaminia, behind Porta Flaminia on Aurelian Walls, is one of the biggest squares of Rome: Piazza del Popolo, with its beautiful church Santa Maria del Popolo.

This peaceful and traffic free square was once not that peaceful, since it was the theatre were public executions took place, the last of which happened in 1826.

The layout of the piazza, as we see it today, was designed in neoclassical style between 1811 and 1822 by the architect Giuseppe Valadier, who was inspired by Bernini's St. Peter's Square. In fact both the shape of the square with the two high screening walls forming two semicircles, and the obelisk in the center remind the much more famous "Piazza".

Very important in Valadier's Piazza del Popolo, is also the incorporation of a nature element with the green wall descending from the Pincio Terrace, placed at the end of gorgeous Villa Borghese. As a matter of fact a photographic experience of this square is included not only in our in our Rome by Night tour and workshop, but also in the Villa Borghese and Posh areas tour itinerary.

The obelisk erected in the middle of the square, surrounded by four fountains with lions spouting water, is known as the Flaminio Obelisk and it is the second oldest and one of the tallest obelisks in Rome. The obelisk was brought to Rome in 10 BC by order of Augustus and originally set up in the Circus Maximus.

Looking towards the south side of the square three major street begin, forming what Romans call the "trident" (il Tridente): Via del Corso in the centre, Via del Babuino to the left and the Via di Ripetta to the right. Separating them are the twin churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (1681) and Santa Maria in Montesanto (1679), begun by Carlo Rainaldi and completed by Bernini and Carlo Fontana. The road in the middle, Via del Corso, leads to Piazza Venezia, Via del Babbuino on the left ends in Piazza di Spagna, while Via di Ripetta takes to the Museum of Ara Pacis (a short name for The Ara Pacis Augustae), that embeds the ancient Roman altar dedicated to the goddess of Peace.

The shot here below, taken in the very early morning, about an hour before sunrise, show Piazza del Popolo with no "Popolo" (people), inside... a very rare view since the square is actually a strategic cross point for both Romans going to work or shop and tourists taking walks downtown.

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