Piazza del Popolo ☆☆

Piazza del Popolo, Rome, Italy (Photo by WolfgangM)

The "People's Square" marks the northern edge of the tourist's Rome, anchoring the Tridente neighborhood and flanked by the amazing church of Santa Maria del Popolo and above it, the greenery of Villa Borghese park

This huge oval space, filling a basin between the banks of the Tiber River and the terraced 19th century Pincio Gardens leading up to Villa Borghese Park, once formed part of the gardens belonging to Nero's family—and is said to hide the site where they secretly buried the crazed and despised emperor after he committed suicide.

Snuggled into the north end of the piazza is the amazing church of Santa Maria del Popolo, crammed with art and architectural works by Caravaggio, Bernini, Raphael, and Pinturicchio yet long overlooked by most Rome visitors (it's finally getting a trickle of tourists thanks to—of all things—a starring role in Dan Brown's Angels & Demons).

The Piazza del Popolo obelisk and how Sixtus V remade Rome

Piazza del Popolo—laid out, in its current state, by Giuseppe Valadier in 1811–22—is pinned at the center by the 13th-century BC Egyptian obelisk of Ramses II, now surrounded by a quartet of lions sending sheets of water splashing into basins at their paws.

This 24m (79-foot) obelisk—removed by the ancient Romans from Heliopolis (now a northeastern suburb of Cairo) by Augutus in 10BC—was originally placed by Emperor Constantine at the Circus Maximus, then dragged up and installed here in 1589 by order of Pope Sixtus V.

This was all a part of Sixtus V's grand civil engineering project to link together what were considered at the time the seven major churches of Rome—and remake Rome from a medieval town into the largely Renaissance and baroque city we know today.

Using archirect Domenico Fontana, he created new squares across Rome, each anchored (usually) by an ancient obelisk like this one, and then linked them all in with a web of new major streets—almost always having three major roads branching from each square to symbolize the Trinity.

In the process, he created the first modern city of Europe.

Piazza del Popolo is the classic and easiest-to-see example of this model of urban planning.

Off the south side of the piazza, between the two tiny "twin" churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto (on the left; built 1679) and Santa Maria dei Miracoli (on the right; built 1681)—which are not actually identical at all if you look closely (and, incidentally, are dull inside)—sprouts the trio of boulevards that make up the Tridente neighborhood

The Cerasi Chapel, with paintings by Annibale Carracci (center) and Caravaggio (left and right) (Photo by Frederick Fenyvessy)

Rome's church of Santa Maria del Popolo is like a primer on the development of art and architecture from the early Renaissance through the baroque

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  • , Piazza del Popolo, Italy (Photo by WolfgangM)
  • , Piazza del Popolo, Italy (Photo )
  • The
  • A lion fountain, Piazza del Popolo, Italy (Photo by BrsJvnvc)
  • The 13th-century BC Egyptian obelisk of Ramses II, Piazza del Popolo, Italy (Photo by Russell Yarwood)
  • The Pincio, Piazza del Popolo, Italy (Photo by Maren Lie Malmo)
  • , Piazza del Popolo, Italy (Photo by kitto1975)
  • , Piazza del Popolo, Italy (Photo by MarkusMark)
  • The
  • , Piazza del Popolo, Italy (Photo by fotokoci)
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Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).