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Rome: Piazza del Popolo, Pincio  and Villa Borghese

Piazza del Popolo, looking west from the Pincio

Piazza del Popolo and the adjacent Villa Borghese is one of the most famous places, especially for foreigners, in Rome.  The via Flaminia, an important Roman road and also the route taken by pilgrims coming to Rome from northern Europe in the Middle Ages, enters the city through the Porta del Popolo.  The piazza has the imposing Obelisk of Pharaoh Ramses II, purloined by Augustus in the first century B.C. (the historical sketches below would indicate it has been a landmark there since the sixteenth century), a central fountain and two more at the western and eastern ends with some cheesily imposing 19th century sculptures, and a classy cafe on each side, the Rosati  on the west, and the Canova on the east.  The Caffé Rosati is one of the likelier places to spot an Italian film star or director. The piazza looks much the same as it did three hundred years ago.

Your first walk could start going up to the Monte Pincio which can be easily reached from Piazza del Popolo.
In the 4 century, the Pinci family left their name to this hill covered by a garden. The garden was then redesigned by Giuseppe Valadier, during the Napoleonic occupation in the 19 century. Some years later the statues of Italian patriots were added by Giuseppe Mazzini.
From the Piazzale Napoleone I there is a magnificent view particularly at the sunset. Opposite are the buildings of the Vatican grouped round the dome of S. Peter’s.

 The best time to visit the gardens is at sunset, when the view of St. Peter's and the Tiber River make a picture perfect panorama.

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Steps lead from the Piazza del Popolo to the Pincio eastward

The piazza has three churches : the two Baroque churches at the south end are virtual mirror images of each other, Santa Maria di Montesanto (on the left) and Santa Maria di Miracoli (on the right); the least imposing of the three, at least from the exterior,  is Santa Maria del Popolo, just inside Porta del Popolo. This church is not, by Roman standards, particularly old, or particularly large, or particularly famous, but it holds some very impressive art. The first right after the entrance is the della Rovere chapel, with an Adoration by Pinturicchio. Pinturicchio also frescoed the next chapel, the Cappella Agostino, and the ceiling of the choir. The Chigi Chapel, second on the left, was started by Raphael for the Sienese banker Agosto Chigi, then finished by Vasari according to Raphael's designs. The Cerasi Chapel, directly left of the main altar, has two Caravaggio paintings.

 Here are the photo of the masterpiece  Crucifixion of Saint Peter and The conversion on the way to Damascus by Caravaggio, Assumption of the Virgin Mary, by Annibale Carracci and Daneil and the lion by Bernini all situated in the Santa Maria del Popolo church.

 Dan Brown set here an episode of his novel Angels and Demons, and Thom Gunn wrote a poem about Caravaggio's Conversion, which he named after the church.
An Egyptian obelisk of Rameses II from Heliopolis stands in the centre of the Piazza. The obelisk, known as the obelisco Flaminio, is the second oldest and one of the tallest in Rome (some 24 m high, or 36 m including its). The obelisk was brought to Rome in by order of Augustus and originally set up in the Circus Maximus. It was re-erected here in the Piazza by the architect-engineer Domenico Fontana in 1589 as part of the urban plan of Sixtus V. The Piazza also formerly contained a central fountain, which was moved to the Piazza Nicosia in 1818, when fountains in the form of Egyptian-style lions were added around the base of the obelisk.

Looking from the north, three streets branch out from the Piazza, forming the so-called Trident the Via del Corso in the centre, the Via del Babuino on the left (opened in 1525 as the Via Paolina) and the Via di Ripetta (opened by Leo X in 1518 as the Via Leonina) on the right. Twin churches (the chiese gemelle) of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (1681) and Santa Maria in Montesanto (1679), begun by Carlo Rainaldiand completed by Bernini and Carlo Fontana, define the junctions of the roads. Close scrutiny of the twin churches reveals that they are not mere copies of one another, as they would have been in a Neoclassical project, but varying their details, offering variety within their symmetrical balance in Baroque fashion.
The central Via del Corso (the most central and  famous street of Rome)  follows the course of the ancient Roman Via Flaminia, coming from the Capitol and the forum. The Via Flaminia became known as the Via Lata in the Middle Ages, before becoming today's Via del Corso and leads to the Piazza Venezia. The Via di Ripetta leads past the Mausoleum of Augustus to the Tiber, where the Porto di Ripetta was located until the late 19th century. Today, the road crosses the Tibur by bridge, and continues to the Vatican City. The Via del Babuino, linking to Piazza di Spagna, takes its name from a grotesque sculpture of Silenus, that gained the popular name of "the Baboon".

 At weekends, Romans swarm to this triangular grid of streets to browse in antique shops or go shopping Armani, Benetton, Bulgari and many others.



Villa Borghese is a large landscape garden in the naturalistic English manner in Rome, containing a number of buildings, museums (the famous Galleria Borghese)  and attractions. It is the second largest public park in Rome (80 hectares or 148 acres) after that of the Villa Doria Pamphili.
In 1605 Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V and patron of Bernini, began turning this former vineyard into the most extensive gardens built in Rome since Antiquity. The vineyard's site is identified with the gardens of Lucullus, the most famous in the late Roman republic.

Villa Borghese: the 19th century "Temple of Aesculapius" built purely as a landscape feature, influenced by the lake at Stourhead, Wiltsh

In the 19th century much of the garden's former formality was remade as a landscape garden in the English taste (illustration, right). The Villa Borghese gardens were long informally open but were bought by the commune of Rome and given to the public in 1903. The large landscape park in the English taste contains several villas. The lead up to this park, and there is another entrance at the Porte del Popolo by Piazza del Popolo. The Pincio (the Pincian Hill of ancient Rome), in the south part of the park, offers one of the greatest views over Rome.

The Borghese Gallery (Italian: Galleria Borghese) is a former villa, the Villa Borghese Pinciana ("Borghese villa on the Pincio") in the eponymous park of the Villa Borghese in Rome. It houses a substantial collection of paintings, sculpture and antiquities begun by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Pope Paul V (reign 1605–1621). The Villa was built by the architect Flaminio Ponzio, developing sketches by Scipione Borghese, who used it as a villa suburbana, a party villa, at the edge of Rome.

Many of the sculptures are displayed in the spaces they were intended for, including early works commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini by his first patron Scipione. Napoleon Bonaparte's sister Pauline married into the Borghese family and Antonio Canova's half-nude reclining portrait of her as Venus Victrix takes pride of place in one of the galleries. A famously controversial woman in her lifetime, when asked how she could pose for the sculptor wearing so little, she reputedly replied that there was a stove in the studio that kept her warm. Scipione Borghese was an avid collector of works by Caravaggio, who is well represented in the collection by his Boy with a Basket of Fruit, St. Jerome, Young Sick Bacchus, and others. Other paintings of note include Titian's Sacred and Profane Love, Raphael's Deposition and works by Peter Paul Rubens and Federico Barocci.
Here are the photos of the masterpiece  Plutone e Proserpina by Bernini, a detail of the same sculpture and Venere Vincitrice by canova.

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For further details you can visit Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Piazza del Popolo