Walks in Rome – Route 3

From Piazza del Popolo to Piazza di Spagna

If you are planning a shopping spree while in Rome, take this brochure with you. It will lead you on a rambling tour trough the area as renowed for its history as for its boutiques. The Spanish steps, Via Condotti, Via Frattina are three well-know shopping streets today, but they were once part of the supposedly linked to Lucius Tarquinius Priscus and Tarquin the Proud, Etruscan kings ruling Rome in the seven and sixth century B.C.. Originally much larger than its present counterpart, the rione took its name from an ancient sanctuary dedicated to god Mars and probably located in the area when it was used primary for military exercises. The northern part of the rione, nearest to Piazza del Popolo, was once covered with lush gardens and remained uninhabited at length. After that, numerous groups of foreigners moved into the area, from the Dalmatians and Illyrians who took up residence near the Ripetta Port, to the Greeks of Via del Babuino, the French Burgundly from Piazza S. Claudio to Piazza di Spagna, the Dutch in Via Margutta and the Spanish in Piazza di Spagna. Artist’s studios and antique shops have been livening the trident formed by Via Margutta, Via del Babuino, and Via del Corso since as early as the sixteenth century. Sebastiano del Piombo, Cavalier d’Arpino, Baldassare Peruzzi and Nicolas Poussin were among the many artists who lived there. The rione began undergoing its most visible alterations at the end of the last century, first in 1876 when the Tiber embankments were erected and lovely Ripetta Port, designed in 1704, was demolished. The final urban renovation took place in the 1930s, when a modern square was carved around around the Tomb of Augustus, thus resulting in the destruction of the area between Via del Corso, Via della Frezza, and Via Tomacelli and tearing a sad hole in the architectural fabric of the rione.
Porta del Popolo, Church of S.Maria del Popolo, and the twin churches S.Maria dei Miracoli and S.Maria in Montesanto , are all connected to Piazza del Popolo. Take a look at them before you begin your shopping in the streets of the centre. Walk down Via del Corso and at number 20 you will see something interesting, the house where the great German poet Goethe lived. Just opposite on the other side of the street, you can see the eighteenth century building Palazzo Rondanini which once housed a famous art collection.  Continuing down the street, you can see the eighteenth century Chiesa di Gesu’ and Maria nestled among the many clothing shops. Opposite the church, the San Giacomo Hospital, one of the oldest hospitals of the city emerges. Turning right into Via Canova we’ll pass in front of the studio of the sculptor that gave the street its name, and the small church of S.Maria in Portae Paradisi. We are heading towards Piazza Augusto Imperatore at the center of which we find the tomb of the first Roman Emperor, Ottaviano Augusto. Next to this on the street along the river, one of the most beautiful examples of the Roman art can be found, the Ara Pacis. A little further on, still on Via Ripetta we can walk past the churches of S. Rocco and S.Girolamo degli Illiri. Then we reach the magnificient Palazza Borghese, which because of its strange shape ha s been nicknamed “ the cymbal”. As we are walking beside the building, if possible visiting its splendid courtyard, we can hopefully stop at the outdoor antique book and etching stands in Piazza Fontanella Borghese. Turning left once again we reach Palazzo Ruspoli. We are now heading in the direction of the heart of town, Piazza di Spagna. We are, however, taking a slight detour towards Piazza S.Lorenzo in Lucina where we find both a church with the same name built on the remains of an ancient Christian worship place, and Palazzo Fiano. Now we can finally move towards Piazza di Spagna, taking anyone of the elegant and famous streets which join the square to Via del Corso. We are now in Piazza di Spagna, one of the most beautiful sights in the world. After overcoming the initial thrill, just look around and you’ll see the superb Scalinata di Trinita’ dei Monti –the Spanish Steps-, the Barcaccia Fountain by Bernini, Palazzo Mignanelli, Palazzo di Spagna and the Immacolata Concezione column. After a rest on these famous steps of Rome or in the renowned tea room facing the square, start your trip back taking Via del Babuino, known as the antique dealer’s street. You’ll find some interesting construction which prove the presence of many artistic and foreign communities. You’ll see the Collegio Greco, the Church of S. Atanasio, and the All Saints Church. At number 87 of Via del Babuino there is the house of the architect Valadier, and the side street, Vicolo Alibert, which contained the eighteenth century Teatro delle Dame. Once you have arrived halfway down the street get your strength together, turn right, and go along the wonderful Via Margutta.