Steps Around Piazza di Spagna
“No house could keep out the city’s noise, day and night”, a Roman satirist from the early 2nd century once said. It has remained true to this day. Rome is full of piazze or squares and this is its most famous piazza… Piazza di Spagna!
Crowded but captivating, you can first sit cheek-to-cheek with your companions or strangers on a bench around the fountain and capture the movement of the water and look at its intriguing design – a half-sunken ship which was a tribute to the flood of the River Tiber in 1598. This Fontana della Barcaccia was built in 1627–29 by Pietro, the father of Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
It is better to step back and take one step at a time which might lead you to a stairway called the Spanish Steps.
This is a dream landscape! The grand stairway, with its steep steps leading to a 16th-century church on top of a hill and harmoniously surrounded by ancient buildings, looks so dramatic. You may want a loved one to push or pull you and ascend with you the steep 135 steps!
Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti or Spanish Steps, which connects the piazza with the French church Trinità dei Monti, was built by the Italian architect Francesco de Sanctis in 1723 and finally opened in 1725. Since then, it has been the favorite place of the romantics! They love hanging out in the stairs, enjoying as time merrily dawdles away. Certainly, such a spectacular setting could inflame the colorful gesticulations of the crowd. Oh, how more fascinating it must be when the sun goes down…and at night, when the bright moon in the Roman night sky bathe the dramatic stairs! Perhaps all the lovers could hear were the sweet murmurs, the splash of the fountain below and the beating of their hearts! Memories have been built here for generations.
This is a kind of scenery that can inspire and awaken a creative spirit that it has become one of the favorite subjects of artists since it was built. Painters must have those irresistible urges to convey their visions into art pieces! Some might have been driven to reflect a faded, hazy depiction…while others might have captured sharply every detail, including the warm and vibrant emotions of the crowd. Filmmakers found the right backdrop and perspective here for their films, like the classic Roman Holiday and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Writers must have been smitten…and their words, which their thoughts were placidly producing, expressive with harmonious or contrasting emotions, gave such a beautiful unity.
How I wish to sit on the steps or take photos of the Spanish Steps on such a romantic and vibrant scene… but much to my dismay, it was shut down during our visit. It’s undergoing a €1.5m renovation by Bulgari. However, it was still visually stunning and I had an opportunity to photograph it…and imagine it on its different moods.
Your steps can also lead you to narrow, cobbled alleys with rows of shops, restaurants, tea shops, and cafés! Imagine how enchanting this piazza must be during those ancient times… with only the moonlight and the flickering torches lighting the open square and its network of narrow streets
After more than 200 years, like almost everything else, this underwent a gradual state of evolution but it has retained its vibrant old-world charm and still draws droves of locals and tourists day and night. You can find designer shops around Via Condotti like Prada, Missoni, Valentino, Gucci, Dior, Bulgari, etc.
Piazza di Spagna was named after Palazzo di Spagna which was built in the 17th century to house the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See. The French spent in the construction of its most famous landmark, the Spanish Steps, to commemorate the peace between France and Spain. So among other things, it reflects an evolutionary perspective of political affairs, showing how power politics govern the relationships among nations.
The piazza also reflects an evolutionary perspective of Rome’s economy. The farmers were the backbone during the much simple Roman Republic. They supplied the towns with grain, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and meat. Those who lived along the coastline supplied the markets with fish.
The Roman Empire brought good governance and prosperity but with that also came complexities. The modern metropolis of the imperial capital, with all its roads, buildings and public works created a more comfortable life however, over a million people were squeezed in the capital and more Romans from different provinces wanted to come in, resulting to congestion, high crime, high rent, and a high cost of living. With the Romans having a great talent for organizing and governing, they eventually figured out how to put things in order by establishing a network of civil servants. The dazzling opportunities of the growing capital attracted people from different parts of Italy, including the farmers, whose products could no longer compete with the much lower-priced imported goods. Though undeveloped lands were turned into efficient large farms to supply the greater needs of the capital, only the rich could afford to own the great tracts of land.
Trade flourished as Roman engineers built farm-to-market roads and improved their harbors. So by 1st century, they traded extensively within and outside the boundaries of Italy. Their bakeries had easy grain supplies from the surrounding provinces, North Africa and Egypt. They got supplies too of other essential commodities from different places: Spain with silver, copper, gold, tin, fruit, and salt; India with spices and gems; Greece with marble, honey and wine; Syria with leather, medicine, timber, and perfume; Africa with gold, ivory and wild animals; Gaul with ham, wool, cheese, and glass; Mesopotamia with cotton, spices, medicines, pearls, perfume, and silks; Britain with wool, lead, iron, and tin; Byzantium and Asia Minor with textile, gems, olive oil, and carpets.
Products from all over flowed into Rome and importers became one of the wealthiest citizens. The shipping industry became huge. More buildings were built so builders prospered. There were all sorts of traders and the streets were teeming with all kinds of shops. As trade flourished, market squares for commerce, entertainment, pageantry, cropped up.
Piazza di Spagna ultimately became an atmospheric place of those who want to see and be seen. In 1800s, it was surrounded with hotels for the moneyed class travelers, writers and artists enthralled by history or just simply seeking a sense of joy and inspiration.
Guitar music floated along as we walked along the narrow street, mixing with the murmuring of voices from those having an alfresco dining in the cafés.
La Colonna della Immacolata in the south east extension of Piazza di Spagna , which was erected in 1857, commemorates Pope Pius IX’s doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Babington Tea Rooms, founded in 1896 by two English Spinters, Isabel Cargill and Anna Maria Babington, still serves English teas. It is now being managed by Rory Bruce, the great-grandson of Isabel Cargill, and his cousin Chiara Bedini.
Since it opened in 1760, Café Greco, the oldest café in Rome, has been the favorite by aristocrats, politicians, artists, writers, and musicians such as the English poet John Keats, German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, British poet and politician Lord Byron, Hungarian musician and author Franz Liszt, German composer Richard Wagner, Italian author and great lover Casanova and lots of other notable figures.
When McDonald’s opened its first branch in Rome on March 20, 1986 in Piazza di Spagna, it was not spared from resistance and controversies. This reveals the significance of the Italian’s reverence to their culture, as food is part of a cultural heritage. They are known for their earthiness in their cuisine, and even their cucina popolare use fresh ingredients from the orchards and farms of their countryside.
There were rallies and protests by people from different sectors and one of the intense protesters was Carlo Petrini, who later that year established the Slow Food Movement.
McDonald’s always considers the taste profile of the communities they serve so if they offered a grilled salmon sandwich called “McLaks” in Norway, they also offered McItaly, a burger with Italian Asiago cheese, artichoke spread and lettuce. This didn’t work out so McItaly was later discontinued. This branch is huge and aside from the standard menu of french fries, regular hamburgers, chicken, and fish sandwiches, they have a selection of cakes and gelato.
Valentino is one of Italy’s great fashion designers. This is his headquarters where he makes his clothes, holds office and has a grand flagship store called Piazza di Spagna 38. He, too, was not happy about McDonald’s being just a few meters away from his building so he filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s, stressing that the smell of their fries was ruining his clothes. It was a long court battle but the ending was McDonald’s could stay but it had to fix its exhaust system.