Piazza del Popolo, Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, and Museo Leonardo da Vinci 


Dome Santa Maria del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo (People’s Square), along the northern edge of “tourist Rome”, is part of Rome’s tridente neighborhood. The church of Santa Maria del Popolo and several parks surround the square.

Piazza del Popolo

The hot weather in Rome zaps your energy. I’ve been leaving my apartment mid-morning, returning around 4 pm to recharge, and going out later – when things cool down. Although the metro is great, it goes without saying that getting around in the heat requires effort and energy. Walking is the best way to see Rome.

Caravaggio Crucifixion of St. Peter Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo isn’t Rome’s most popular piazza, but it’s beautiful. “This oval space, fills a basin between the Tiber River and the terraced 19th century Pincio Gardens leading up to Villa Borghese Park. The gardens belonged to Nero’s family and supposedly hide the site where they secretly buried the crazed and despised emperor after he committed suicide.”

Caravaggio Conversion of St. Paul Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo

In the middle of the piazza there’s an “ancient Egyptian obelisk of Ramses II surrounded by a quartet of lions sending sheets of water splashing into basins at their paws”. Romans moved the obelisk from Heliopolis Egypt and placed it at Rome’s Circus Maximus. In 1589, Pope Sixtus V ordered the obelisk moved to Piazza del Popolo.

Interior Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo

Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo

The 15th century church of Santa Maria del Popolo is at the northern end of the piazza. It contains priceless works of Renaissance art by Caravaggio, Bernini, Raphael, Carracci, and Pinturicchio.

Ceiling Santa Maria del Popolo

“Pope Sixtus V’s grand civil engineering project was creating the first modern European city by linking Rome’s major churches. With the help of Italian architect Domenico Fontana, he created new squares across Rome. Sixtus V anchored each square with an ancient obelisk and linked them with a web of three streets branching from each square to symbolize the Trinity.” Rome has the most obelisks of any city in the world – eight from ancient Egypt, five Roman, one from Ethiopia, and several modern versions.

The Last Supper Leonardo da Vinci

It was customary for pilgrims to come to the Eternal City to gain “indulgences” – remission of the time to be spent in Purgatory by their souls or those of relatives. During pilgrimages, they visited Rome’s main churches, including:

  • Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo
  • St. Peter’s Basilica
  • St. Paul Basilica
  • St. Sebastian Basilica
  • St. John Lateran
  • Basilica of the Holy Cross
  • St. Lawrence Church
  • St. Mary Major Basilica

Exterior Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo

Museo Leonardo da Vinci

Museo Leonardo da Vinci blew my mind. The museum is under the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo. I didn’t know that da Vinci was such a military mastermind.

Da Vinci Military Inventions

The museum contains models of the many military machines he designed for battles. I thought of him as a painter more than a military engineer. Touring the museum gave me a new appreciation for his well-deserved title “The Universal Genius” – artist, designer, experimenter, philosopher, scientist, anatomist, cosmologist, cartographer, engineer, and architect! The museum contains reproductions of some of da Vinci’s paintings and drawings and information about the creation and crucial restoration of his most famous masterpieces, including:

  • The Last Supper
  • Mona Lisa
  • La belle Ferronnière
  • Portrait of a Young Fiancée
  • The Virgin of the Rocks

Lion Fountain Piazza del Popolo

As with all things Roman – in addition to their beauty, the artwork and architecture have historical significance and many layers of deeper, symbolic meaning.

Piazza del Popolo Obélisque

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