Rome & its beating heart - Piazza Venezia

Mara Noveni | Live the World

May 29, 2024

Everything, or almost, has been told about Rome. On a historical and cultural level, the Eternal City is known worldwide and is visited daily by thousands of tourists. This time, I want to tell you about its beating heart, Piazza Venezia. It is one of the main squares in Rome. It has always represented Renaissance Rome, which is opposed to papal Rome, with its Piazza San Pietro.

For centuries, the square was simply the arrival point of via del Corso, a very popular square for the Romans, especially during the carnival celebrations, but still a tiny, medieval and Renaissance square. Subsequently, it becomes the topographical centre of Rome, the link between the various historical periods of the Eternal City, between the Rome of its origins and the Rome of the Popes. And at the same time, it is the first square of Rome, the capital of modern Italy, the first square where gas lighting was tested, and the first to be served by the horse-drawn omnibus. It is located behind the Campidoglio, where del Corso and via dei Fori Imperiali meet.

On its sides are Palazzo Venezia, Palazzo Bonaparte, the Assicurazioni Generali building, but above all, the glorious mass of the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, the Vittoriano.

© iStock/PhotoLondonUK

The Vittoriano

This monument was made of a special marble, easily mouldable. Also known as Vittoriano, the monument celebrates successful national unity and serves as an altar for state ceremonies. It was decided to build this monument on the Campidoglio because this was the representative place of Roman power for thousands of years.

The construction work began in 1885 and finished in 1911. After World War I, the mausoleum was remodelled to house the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was then called the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) to remember the soldiers who died in the war in the service of the Fatherland and were left without a burial. The grave is constantly watched over by two soldiers and two always-lit torches.

Behind the historical characteristics, however, the original purpose of the architectural project is hidden, that is, to gather in single sculptural complex images that refer to Italy. Here we find, in fact, the bas-reliefs of Work and Love for the Fatherland, the fountains that symbolize the Adriatic Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea, and the statues of the regions. The plant symbols are also important, including the palm for victory, the oak for strength, the laurel for peace, the myrtle for sacrifice and the olive tree for concord.

In June 2007, the rear part of the architectural complex was enriched by a beautiful terrace, from which you can enjoy a broad panorama of the city. Entrance to the Altare della Patria is free, but you pay for the lift ride to admire one of the most beautiful sights of Rome seen from the sky. Alternatively, you can walk up the steps starting from the colonnade.

© iStock/Vladislav Zolotov

Palazzo Venezia

It is the oldest building in the current square. It was built in the mid-15th century on commission from the Venetian cardinal Pietro Barbo, who later became Pope, assuming the name of Paul II.

Currently, Palazzo Venezia houses the National Museum, one of the most important ones in Rome. The gardens, historical halls and the museum inside take the visitor back to the splendour of the Renaissance to the Italian tradition in the field of the arts. Few buildings in Rome contain such a wealth of history, art and culture. After Pope Paul II, many popes spent long periods at Palazzo Venezia, especially in the summer. Furthermore, many illustrious guests have crossed this entrance over the centuries, attracted by the hidden beauties inside. The austere facade opens up to the visitor and reveals the internal gardens and halls in all their beauty.

The central balcony from which Benito Mussolini looked out during the Fascist period is famous worldwide.

© iStock/ChiccoDodiFC

Palazzo delle Assicurazioni Generali

It was built in 1911 in place of two historic buildings and was created by mirroring Palazzo Venezia, including the square tower, to give perfect symmetry to the square in front of the Altare della Patria. On the facade stands out a 16th-century bas-relief depicting the lion of San Marco, the symbol of Venice. The bas-relief came from the city walls of Padua and was the symbol of the dominion of the Serenissima Republic of Venice.

© iStock/Apostolos Giontzis

Via dei Fori Imperiali

This marvellous road, which connects Piazza Venezia with the Colosseum and refers to the Roman Empire's splendour, was strongly desired by Mussolini and designed and built to reinforce his triumphal and monumental vision of the New Rome.

Via dei Fori Imperiali was intended to open the city to modernity, to make it easily accessible to cars and to adapt it to the new needs of the fascist regime, which often and willingly organized parades to reaffirm the strength of the regime. To build via dei Fori Imperiali, entire blocks of buildings were razed to the ground, as was also the case of via della Conciliazione, the road that led to St. Peter's Basilica.

Walking along via dei Fori Imperiali, both to the right and the left, we find archaeological excavations of ancient Rome. In fact, this area represented the extension of the forums, and administrative places of the city, given that the more classic Roman Forum had become too small for the patchy extension of the city.

© iStock/Gabriele Maltinti

The Campidoglio and the Capitoline Museums

Behind the Altare della Patria, on the side of Via del Teatro di Marcello, there is another group of very interesting places to visit.

First, we have the Campidoglio, with Piazza Campitelli and the Capitoline Museums. The Capitoline hill was originally an ancient village that housed numerous temples dedicated to Roman divinities. On this hill is the seat of the Municipality of Rome, whose facade was created by Michelangelo Buonarroti, who also made the podium for the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, which stands out in the centre of the square. Even the staircase leading to the Campidoglio was built by Michelangelo, with wide and low steps to allow knights to climb as well.

Piazza del Campidoglio is considered one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, with its trapezoidal shape, which gives the visitor a pleasant sense of harmony and balance.

© iStock/Todis53

The Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli

Right next to the Campidoglio, to its left and on the top, stands the Basilica of S. Maria in Aracoeli, exactly where the ancient temple of Giunone Moneta once stood. It is a beautiful church in Romanesque-Gothic style, dating back to the mid-twelfth century. Originally the entrance was facing Piazza del Campidoglio, and not frontal as it is now, right at the top of the staircase.

The marble staircase is made up of 124 steps and was built as a thank you to the Virgin Mary for the end of the plague epidemic raging throughout Europe. It was therefore considered a real Scala Santa to be climbed on one's knees and with devotion to ask for graces and healings. But, above all, it was climbed by girls looking for a husband, women who wanted a child and mothers who asked for milk for their children. The church was famous for the statue of the Holy Child, a sculpture carved in an olive tree trunk from the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem, which was stolen in 1994 and never returned.

From the top of the staircase, you can enjoy a beautiful panorama of Rome, with the domes of Sant'Andrea della Valle and San Pietro in the foreground.

© iStock/Velirina

Right in front of the Altare della Patria, at the end of the square, the famous via del Corso begins. It is one of the main shopping streets in Rome and leads to another architectural jewel, Piazza del Popolo. Also, a few steps from Piazza Venezia is the Jewish Ghetto, which I have already told you about in another of my stories.

© iStock/Hermsdorf

An idea for gourmets

In times of social media, influencers and constant sharing, what about a selfie in the square while enjoying some traditional Roman pasta? This is the idea of Pasta Eat, a small shop, a pasta fast food located a few steps from Piazza Venezia that cooks fresh pasta throughout the day. The pasta can be eaten on the spot, on the first floor, or with the takeaway service, it can be taken away in a disposable container, like street food. At the moment, it is very cool to take a selfie with the pasta bowl of Pasta Eat and, in the background, the famous places of Rome. An experience to try, even because you can taste excellent pasta dishes of Roman cuisine at a fairly low cost.

© Pasta Eat/unknown author

During this excursus in Rome and its beating heart, Piazza Venezia, we have seen various aspects of tourism in Rome, from the historical-cultural to the purely touristic one, to the religious one, and finally, we finished with the gastronomic aspect. Therefore, a tour of Piazza Venezia for a multi-sensory experience is not to be missed!

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