Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo (People’s Square), along the northern edge of “tourist Rome”, is near the northern gate of the Aurelian Wall and part of Rome’s tridente neighborhood. The church of Santa Maria del Popolo and several parks surround the beautiful square.
The hot weather in Rome zaps your energy. I’ve been leaving my apartment mid-morning and returning around 4 pm to recharge, before going out again later when things cool down. Although the metro is great, navigating in the heat requires effort and energy. Walking is truly the best way to see Rome.
Piazza del Popolo isn’t Rome’s most popular piazza, but it’s stunning! This oval space fills a basin between the Tiber River and the terraced 19th century Pincio Gardens leading up to Villa Borghese Park, Rome’s largest public Park.
“Pincio Gardens belonged to Nero’s family and supposedly hides the site where they secretly buried the crazed and despised emperor after he committed suicide.”
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.
Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo
Fifteenth century Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo is at the northern end of the piazza. It contains priceless works of Renaissance art by great masters Caravaggio, Pinturicchio, Bernini, Raphael, Carracci, and others.
“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 all 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 Egyptian, five Roman, one Ethiopian, and five modern versions.
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:
- 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
Museo Leonardo da Vinci
Museo Leonardo da Vinci blew my mind. The museum is underneath the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo. I didn’t know that da Vinci was such a military mastermind!
The museum contains models of the many military machines Da Vinci designed for battles. I thought of him as a painter more than a military engineer developing weapons of war. Touring the museum gave me new appreciation for his talent and well-deserved title “The Universal Genius” – artist, philosopher, designer, experimenter, scientist, anatomist, cosmologist, cartographer, engineer, and architect! The museum contains reproductions of some of da Vinci’s paintings and drawings, as well as information about the creation and crucial restoration of his most famous masterpieces:
As with all things Roman – in addition to their beauty, artwork and architecture have historical significance and many layers of deeper, symbolic meaning.