Spanish Steps, Rome - the Baroque Pearl of the Eternal City

If you take the Roman underground and reach the station Spanga, you would only need 2 minutes to get to the most impressive baroque steps of all times - the Spanish Steps. This sightseeing point starts on Piazza di Spagna, which is surrounded by many narrow and old streets. The Piazza and the steps have an interesting history and acquired its name after the Spanish Embassy that is located in the Southern part of the square and dates back to the early XVII century. 

The Spanish Steps were initially meant to connect two piazzas - the Piazza di Spagna at the base and the Piazza Trinità dei Monti on the hill. Once before the stairs were built here the slope was very steep and it was extremely difficult to reach the Trinita dei Monti Church from below. Thanks to the French diplomat Etienne Gueffier and the funds he invested the project to build stairs in this place was brought to life in 1723-1725 by Francesco de Sanctis and the problem was solved. In spite of the French contribution into the Spanish Steps and also the fact that they led to the Church Trinita dei Monti that belonged to the Bourbon kings of France, the steps stayed Spanish till today reminding us of the Palazzo di Spagna - the famous Spanish Embassy. 

Barcaccia Fountain and the Bernini

Before you set foot on the first step of the Spanish Steps you should definitely see an unusual fountain presenting a half-flooded boat on the Piazza di Spagna, called “Barcaccia”, which can be translated as “an old vessel” or “a boat”. This is the first fountain that stands out for its unconventional proportions different from classical baths. 

Although many popes wanted to set a fountain right in this place for a long time, they couldn’t. The reason for that was low pressure of the aqueduct Acqua Virga in this area, but the corrections that had been done over the aqueduct and the peculiar design of “Barcaccia” finally made it possible.

Interestingly, the man who was responsible for the aqueduct Acqua Virga and the fountain was a famous artist Pietro Bernini, the father of yet more famous Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini. Bernini the elder was an acknowledged master of those times and had worked as a pope’s architect. Having such an impressive background Bernini the junior managed not only to acquire the talents and skills from his father, but add even more talent on top of it.

No wonder, Bernini the son spread his amazing masterpieces all around Rome and made it impossible to imagine the City of Seven Hills without his works. “Barcaccia”, too, couldn’t avoid his touch. Bernini the junior is considered to be responsible for the decoration part of the famous fountain, which was finally fully completed in 1629. 

A Legend

It is believed today that “Barcaccia” was built after a massive flood of the Tiber river that happened in Rome on Christmas 1598, when a boat was stranded to the center of the Piazza di Spagna. The Pope Urban VIII who was very impressed by this event, took it as a sign from God and decided to set a fountain right in this place by any means necessary. 

Piazza di Spagna has always been a central and favourite place for tourists from all around the world. English lords of XVIII - XIX centuries liked to settle in this place. The famous poet Kitts lived here. No traveler could skip this place neither in the 17th nor in the 21st century. 

After the Spanish Steps appeared here, they have always been an important landmark of Rome renowned by writers and poets from around the world. Many writers mentioned it in their memoirs and novels. The Spanish Steps was the place where painting models were gathering in hope to find an artist to work for. Right here Diсkens once recognized a man whom he saw in hundreds of paintings of the Royal Academy Catalogue. People who lived nearby used the Spanish Steps to go down to “Barcaccia” fountain to fill their  pots with the freshest water provided by the best aqueduct of Rome - Acqua Virga. 

Spanish Steps Today

Another wave of fame this place acquired after the movie “Rome Holidays” with Audrey Hapburn in 1953. It made the Spanish Steps one of the most beloved spots for tourists of all ages. Everyone wants to climb up 135 steps and linger on top overseeing the Eternal City from above. Many come here for a shopping tour in one of the oldest and best shopping streets of the city - Via Condotti. Others just use this place as a meeting point and then look for a nearby eatery in one of the narrow streets near Piazza di Spagna. From here you can move in any direction and easily get to other famous landmarks of Rome, such as the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Venezia, the Roman Forum and the famous Colosseum. 

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