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The first thing you'll notice about the Piazza Navona is its odd shape. The buildings surrounding the piazza are built on the ruins of the ancient stadium of Domitian, built in 86 AD. The ancient Romans came here to watch the games and so it was known as competition arena. Imagine the Romans racing through this piazza more than 2,000 years ago. The foot races began at the square end of the piazza; the rounded end of the Piazza marks the halfway point of the course. To get a more realistic feel for what these structures looked like in ancient Rome, you can look down into the excavated structures on the street outside the north end of the Piazza *** Built atop the ruins, Piazza Navona, has existed as a beautiful public space for centuries. Notice the three fountains in this piazza. While providing aesthetic pleasure, public fountains, were also often lavish monuments to church leaders. More practically, fountains served as a primary source of water for residents prior to home plumbing. The two fountains on either end of the piazza- the Fontana del Moro, Moor Fountain, and the Fontana del Nettuno Fountain of Neptune were sculpted by Giacomo della Porta in the 16th century. But the spectacular center fountain, called the Four Rivers Fountain (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) is the real beauty of the piazza. In 1651, the foremost artist of the day, Gian Lorenzo Bernini constructed this lavish sculpture for Pope Innocent X. Pope Innocent's family palace faced the piazza and he was determined to beautify the area despite considerable public opposition. The construction of the fountain was met with particular disdain. While the people of Rome were experiencing an intense famine, the Pope was using public funds to construct monuments to himself. Throughout the construction of the fountain talk of riot was in the air. Protesters attached hand-written messages at the construction site, reading, "We do not want Obelisks and Fountains, It is bread that we want. Bread, Bread, Bread!" Innocent quickly had the authors arrested. *** Today, there is more than enough food to go around in this lovely square. Restaurants, cafes and gelaterias line the side streets.
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