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Rome: The Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Pantheon

Updated on August 30, 2012

When in Rome-There is always more

When I was in Rome for about a week of meetings, I stole a few hours one afternoon to explore the city. I thought that I had done pretty well with seeing Trajan’s Market, the memorial to King Victor Emmanuel II in the Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum, when a colleague who had lived in the city for five years, suggested a walking tour during our one free evening. He led a group of us in an entirely different direction, beginning with stops in several churches to admire the great masters on display, and then moving southwest along the Via 20 Septembre, which becomes the Via del Quirinale at the intersection of the four fountains, and then on to the Quirinale Palace, which Pope Gregory XIII built on the highest of the seven hills of Rome in 1583. Originally, it was intended as a summer palace, high above the humidity and reek of the Tiber in summer.

Intersection of Four Fountains

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Palazzo del Quirinale with statue of Castor and Pollux at right
Palazzo del Quirinale with statue of Castor and Pollux at right | Source
Entrance to Quirinale
Entrance to Quirinale | Source
Dome of St. Peter's from Piazza Quirinale
Dome of St. Peter's from Piazza Quirinale | Source

The Piazza del Quirinale

In 1871 it became the official royal residence of the kings of Italy. When the monarchy was abolished in 1946, it became the offices and official residence of the Republic of Italy.

The adjoining Piazza de Quirinale, with its statue of Casper and Pollux, provides not only a great vantage point to observe the changing of the guard at the palace but also a wonderful view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

We descended the steps from the piazza to Via della Dateria and wandered among the shops and restaurants until we reached the Pantheon. Originally built by Marcus Agrippa about AD 27, fire destroyed the original buildings in AD 80. Emperor Hadrian rebuilt it, but after fire again destroyed it in AD 110, Trajan had it rebuilt once again.

Parthenon and Portico
Parthenon and Portico | Source
Interior of Parthenon
Interior of Parthenon | Source
Pantheon's coffered dome and oculus
Pantheon's coffered dome and oculus | Source
Tomb of King Victor Emanuel II
Tomb of King Victor Emanuel II | Source

The Pantheon, Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs

From the Piazza della Rotonda. the Pantheon;s Corinthian-columned granite portico appears extremely well-preserved, but the pristine condition of the main building, the rotunda, with the knowledge that it has been in continual use for nearly 2,000 years, tests credulity. The coffered dome is the largest unreinforced ceiling in the world. The oculus at its center is the only source of natural light. Discreet holes in the floor beneath the oculus allow rain to drain away.

Since Emperor Phocas gave the structure to Pope Boniface IV at the beginning of the 7th century, it has been known as the Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs (Santa Maria dei Martiri). Beginning in the 15th century, sacred art has adorned the church. Since the16th century, St Mary’s also has served as a tomb. Among those interred here are the artist Rafael and two kings of Italy: Victor Emanuel II and Umberto I.

The high altar dates from the beginning of the 18th century.

Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain | Source
Trevi Fountain
Trevi Fountain | Source
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The Trevi Fountain

From the Pantheon, we walked through narrow streets until we could hear the sound of voices interspersed with o occasional sounds of splashing water at the famous Trevi Fountain.

I don’t know how I could have heard about this landmark for so long without ever seeing a picture of it, but I was stunned. Where I thought I would find a statue pouring water into a small surrounding pool, I found a massive sculpture, more than 85 feet high and almost 66 feet wide, with water pouring into a basin the size of a large swimming pool surrounded by throngs of tourist jostling to throw coins over their shoulders into the water to ensure that they would return to the Eternal City. Build at the junction of three roads (tre vie) and the terminus of one of the aquaducts that carried spring water into Rome, this 18th century allegorical display of the Taming of the Waters.

After watching tourists tumbling over each other like puppies to have their prictures taken in front the fountain, our guide decides that it is time for us to visit Sant Eustachio for espresso, and then to move on to the Spanish Steps, the widest staircase in Europe.

The Spanish Steps

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Fontana della Barcaccia
Fontana della Barcaccia | Source
Pope Urban's heraldic sun is incoroprated into the fountain
Pope Urban's heraldic sun is incoroprated into the fountain | Source
Spanish Embassy
Spanish Embassy | Source
Keats-Shelley House
Keats-Shelley House | Source

The Spanish Steps

As with the Trevi Fountain, l was more familiar with the name of the Spanish Steps (not to be confused with the Russian Steppes, it turns out) than what they look like. In the 18th century, a French diplomat donated the funds to build the 138 steps that rise from the Spanish Plaza (Piazza di Spagna), the site of the Spanish embassy, to the Piazza of the Trinità dei Monti (Trinity of the Mountains) above. At the end of the 15th century, King Charles VIII of France bought the property to build a church and Franciscan monastery.

Bernini’s early 17th century Fontana della Barcaccia, at the bottom of the Steps provides far more visual interest. The central sculpture of shallow boat contains Pope Urban VIII’s heraldic elements, including a prominent version of the radiant sun.

Facing the steps from the “ugly boat” fountain, the former Spanish embassy to Italy, now the Spanish embassy to the Holy See, is to the left; The Keats-Shelley House, where John Keats spent the last few months of his life, is to the right. Keats died here in 1821.

From the Spanish Steps we returned to the hotel via the chic and renowned Via Veneto. Another few hours of touring Rome and the legendary sites from centuries past.

The Virgin Mary tops the Memorial to the Immaculate Conception which stands in front of the Congregation for the Propagation of  the Faith, facing the Piazza di Spagna.
The Virgin Mary tops the Memorial to the Immaculate Conception which stands in front of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, facing the Piazza di Spagna. | Source

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