Caffe Barocco is in Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona is the pride of the Baroque Rome with architectural and sculptural elements of masters such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini (The Fountain of the Four Rivers in the middle of the square representing the Danube, the Ganges, the Nile and the Rio de la Plata, the four corners of the earth), Francesco Borromini and Girolamo Rainaldi (the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone facing Bernini’s fountain) and Pietro da Cortona (who frescoed the gallery in Pamphilj palace).

The square was intended to celebrate the greatness of the Pamphilj family (in a sort of competition with Barberini and Farnese families), so Pope Innocent X (born as Giovanni Battista Pamphilj) ordered to build there the homonymous palace and to adorn it with very valuable masterpieces. In order to prepare the area some neighborhoods were demolished, while the main architects of that time fought a no-holds-barred fight in order to get the tender.

An outstanding role in choosing the artists was played by the powerful Donna Olimpia Maidalchini (influential and jaunty sister-in-law of Pope Innocent X) to whom Bernini was said to have given a silver scale model of his fountain. According to others, it was always her choice to replace Rainaldi with Borromini in the completion of the church.

The church commemorates the martyrdom suffered by the Saint in that very part of the square. According to the legend, it is exactly above the brothel where the events took place which continued to operate in what is now the basement of the building until the construction of the church. Indeed, it is from the arches of these basements that the Latin word “fornices” took also the meaning of lupanar (also determining the root of the verb to fornicate). The present church stands where since the Middle Ages a small parish church had already been erected.

The well known legend about the alleged rivalry between Bernini and Borromini suggests that the spiteful Bernini gave two of his four statues of the rivers special protections against his rival’s work: to the Nile a bandage on his head to avoid the unfortunate vision; to the Rio de la Plata a stretched out hand to shelter from the possibly imminent collapse of the church. But the legend is unfounded because the fountain had been realized before the church (and it is known that the Nile has a bandaged head because at that time his springs hadn’t been discovered yet). What is true, is that the statue of Saint Agnes on the façade of the church has a posture that suggests many possible interpretations, among which that her hand on her breast together with the expression of her face are a sign of disappointment

The competition between the two artists, at least about this square, was solved in playful tones: when Borromini’s staff criticized the possible stability of a hollow structure, Bernini’s staff ironically replayed by fixing up the work with “reassuring” tie-rods of simple string.

On Piazza Navona there are two more fountains: at the southern end is the Fontana del Moro, sculpted by Giacomo della Porta to which Bernini added a statue, and at the northern end is the Fountain of Neptune (formerly Fontana dei Calderari), by Gregorio Zappalà and Antonio Della Bitta.