Immediately behind the lively Campo de’ Fiori, from which it differs both in origin and tradition, it is one of the city’s most elegant squares, aristocratically isolated and dominated by two large fountains that lead the eye to the palace that has been home to the French Embassy since 1874.
It is precisely to the imposing Palazzo Farnese that the history of the square is connected, starting from the 16th century when Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (the future Pope Paul III) purchased several houses in this area to demolish them and create a space suitable for a new refined residence. Its building history involved some of the most prominent Italian architects of the time, including Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Jacopo Barozzi known as the Vignola and Giacomo Della Porta. Nicknamed “dado”, dice, because of its square bulk, the palace was considered one of the four wonders of Rome along with Borghese harpsichord, Caetani staircase (in today’s Palazzo Ruspoli) and Carboniani’s portal (Palazzo Sciarra Colonna).
The square was paved beginning in 1545 and completed with one of the two granite basins that can still be admired today. The second basin was added about forty years later when Cardinal Farnese was allowed to move it from Piazza San Marco, where the two basins, originally from the Baths of Caracalla, had been placed in 1466 by Pope Paul II Barbo to adorn his new palace. In the late Renaissance arrangement of the space in the square, the two basins had a purely ornamental function: it was Girolamo Rainaldi in 1626 who adapted them as fountains.
In addition to Palazzo Farnese, the square shows other noble palaces built at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries. The right side of the square is occupied by the church of Santa Brigida and the house where the Swedish saint lived, together with her daughter St. Catherine, from 1350 until her death in 1373. The church was erected in 1391, the year of the saint’s canonization, and is now run by the Brigidine Sisters.
The square was long used as a space for holding tournaments, bullfights and popular festivals, including those summer floods that later became a particular attraction of Piazza Navona.
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