Piazza Navona is one of the largest piazzas in Rome and not surprisingly, has long been a hive of Roman life.

For 300 years it was the city’s main market area and today it attracts a daily circus of buskers, artists, grumpy old men, tourists and the ever-present pigeons.

Laid out in AD 86 on the ruins of the Stadio di Domiziano, Piazza Navone was originally used for Roman games – the name ‘Navona’ is a corruption of the Greek word ‘agon’, meaning public games – and was flooded every year to stage mock naval battles.

It was paved over in the 15th century and became the site of the city’s principal market.

Today, activity centres around Bernini‘s extravagant Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rives).

Commissioned by Pope Innocente X and completed in 1651, it depicts the rivers Nile, Ganges, Danube and Plata, representing the then-known four continents of the world.

Legend has it that the figure of the Nile is shielding his eyes from the Chiesa di Sant’Agnese in Agone, designed by Bernini’s hated rival, Borromini. This legend can’t be true, however, since Bernini completed his fountain two years before Borromini started work on the facade of the church.

More likely is the theory that the vieled gesture indicates that the source of the Nile was unknown at the time.

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