The Piazza di Spagna is located at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome. It is one of the city’s most famous and impressive squares. Some of the most prestigious shopping streets (Via Condotti and Via Babuino, among others) open onto the square.
Piazza di Spagna Rome
Construction of the Piazza di Spagna wass the result of an initiative by the popes to make the area habitable. The final aim was to attract the wealthier section of of the population to the area.
Its shape is relatively unusual. It could be said to consist of two triangles of different sizes pointed toward each other.
The French and the Spanish
When the Piazza di Spagna was constructed, both Spain and France immediately bought property there. The Spanish Ambassador to the Vatican came to live in the square itself, and thus gave it its name. The French bought the Trinità de Monti church and what is now the Villa Medici on the Pincio hill overlooking the district. For some time, one half of the square was even called Piazza di Francia. It is partly due to this rivalry that it became such a magnificent square: The two countries wanted to outdo each other, which caused both to construct increasingly beautiful buildings on their own half.
In the 18th century, the British took over the Piazza di Spagna. They rented prestigious apartments in the area and built hotels such as the famous Hotel Hassler at the top of the Spanish Steps. This went so far that by the end of the 19th century, Piazza di Spagna had been given the nickname “Ghetto of the English.”
The rich Englishmen in turn attracted artists, who settled in streets such as Via Margutta and Via del Babuino. These then ensured that the Piazza di Spagna became a square where artists’ models in authentic traditional costumes sought to attract attention.
Most of the buildings around the Piazza di Spagna were built between the 17th and 19th centuries and are ocher in color. The square is further enlivened by palm trees and a stand for horse and carriage tours.
What to see
The Spanish Steps, first and foremost. Originally an idea of the French Cardinal Mazarin to connect the square to the French possessions on the Pincio hill. Only much later, with the help of Italian money, were his ideas brought to a conclusion by the architect Francesco De Sanctis.
The Fontana della Barcaccia, or “Fountain of the Old Boat,” located in the middle of the square, is the work of (mostly) the father of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. (This is the fountain that was damaged by Dutch football supporters in 2015).
The current Keats-Shelley Museum is located in the house where the English romantic poet Keats died. It is located to the right of the Spanish Steps.
At house number 31 is the house where Italian painter Giorgio De Chirico used to live (and also died, in 1978). On the coat of arms above the door you can just barely make out the wordy motto of the original residents, a French family of soldiers and painters specializing in war scenes, the Courtois. “Though armed with sword, yet I am courteous (cortese).”
The building housing the American Express office (n. 38), on the corner with the Piazza Mignanelli, used to be the Albergo d’Europa, a luxury hotel.