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The Piazza di Spagna is the most famous square in Rome, and it was almost as popular with foreign visitors and expatriates in the 18th and 19th centuries as it is today. In the 17th century Spain’s ambassador to the Holy See had his headquarters on the square and the area around it was deemed to be Spanish territory – hence its name. The Fontana della Barcaccia in the square is one of Rome’s Baroque fountains; it was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII and designed either by the famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini or by his father Pietro. Bernini constructed a leaking boat – barcaccia means useless old boat – which lies half submerged in a shallow pool.
The Piazza di Spagna and the Trinità dei Monti steps are within walking distance of the Villa Medici and the main approach to it coming from the city. One evening on their return to the Académie, Berlioz and a friend were accosted by muggers:
On climbing the Trinita-del-monte steps, on our way back to the Académie, we had to draw our big Roman knives. Some wretches were lying in ambush on the platform to ask passers-by to stand and deliver. But there were two of us, and they were only three; the cracking of our knives which we opened noisily sufficed to return them momentarily to the path of virtue.
(Memoirs, Chapter 36)
All photographs on this page were taken by Michel Austin in May 2007;
other pictures have been scanned from engravings, postcards and other
publications in our own collection.. © Monir Tayeb and Michel Austin.
All rights of reproduction reserved.
The above engraving was published in the Illustrated London
News, 4 May 1850.
The road running from the piazza is Via
Condotti; the Caffè Greco at No. 86 is a few yards further down the road on the
The Villa Medici (off the photo) is located a few blocks further up the street to the left of the row of cars; the church in the photo overlooks the Spanish Steps and the Piazza di Spagna.
© Michel Austin and Monir Tayeb for all the pictures and information on this page.
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