Located at one end of Via del Corso (the second end is Piazza Venezia), Piazza del Popolo is one of Rome’s great squares and very pleasant to explore. This beautiful complex includes fountains, churches and an obelisk that adorns its centre. The name Piazza del Popolo, often translated as People’s Square, most likely refers to a poplar tree that grew over Nero’s mausoleum…
Built at the behest of Popes Pius VI and Pius VII at the end of the 18th century, this square was adorned with two monumental fountains at each end and a portal pierced in the Aurelian walls.
The obelisk in the centre dates back to the time of Ramses II and was brought from Egypt by Emperor Augustus to decorate the great Circus Maximus.
It was last moved to the centre of the square in the 16th century by Pope Sixtus V, who used the obelisks to guide pilgrims to St. Peter’s.
The fountain and statues at its foot were added when the square was redesigned.
Church of Santa Maria del Popolo
Next to the Porta del Popolo is the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, remarkable for the quality of the works it contains.
Built at the request of Pope Sixtus IV in the late 15th century on the site of a chapel, this Renaissance church houses a fine collection of works of art, including two paintings by Caravaggio, Renaissance frescoes by Pinturicchio and statues by Bernini.
These works adorn the various chapels of the church. The most notable are the Cesari chapel with works by Caravaggio, the Chigi chapel with sculptures by Bernini, the Basso delle Rovere chapel with its Renaissance frescoes and the Chigi chapel for its mosaics based on designs by Raphael.
Leave the square by the stairs to reach the Pincio Hill. From the top of the hill, laid out like a pleasant garden, there is a superb view of Piazza del Popolo and the Vatican. Not to be missed!