If you’ve been to Rome, you probably visited Piazza di Trevi, Piazza di Spagna, or some of the other, more popular public squares. But Rome’s other piazzas offer just as much culture and history as their touristy counterparts. Here are five lesser-known piazzas worth seeking out:
This piazza, located in the Jewish Ghetto, has one of the few fountains in Rome commissioned by a citizen, Muzio Mattei, and not a pope. According to legend, when everyone found out Mattei had lost his fortunes to gambling, he ordered a fountain to be built overnight in order to impress the father of the woman he wished to marry. Given Mattei’s wealth and influence, the story is probably not true — but you don’t want to miss the Fontana delle Tartarughe, or Turtle Fountain, regardless. (For the architecture fans: Della Porta designed this fountain, but the tortoises were added later by either Gian Lorenzo Bernini or Andrea Sacchi, in either 1568 or 1569, depending on who’s telling the story.)
Piazza del Popolo The Piazza del Popolo isn’t exactly a hidden piazza — in fact, it’s well known for its Egyptian obelisk from Heliopolis; the twin churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli; the Porta del Popolo; and several fountains. But, it qualifies here because, if you’re in the know, there’s a special way to experience the piazza. First, take the steps beside the waterfall to Pincio Gardens, where you’ll get a panoramic view from the balustrade stretching out over the Piazza del Popolo. When you’ve soaked up the sights, continue into the gardens. Busts of famous Europeans line the walkways to the obelisk believed to be commissioned by Emperor Hadrian, and to a water clock built in 1867 by a Dominican father.
Piazza Santa Maria Boasting what is believed to be the oldest fountain in Rome, Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere provides escape from Rome’s summer crowds. Shop in the boutiques surrounding the square, savor a meal at a trattoria, or relax near the fountain with a gelato. While you’re here, you’ll also want to set aside some time to visit Santa Maria, the first church built by Christians in Rome. Don’t let its bland exterior fool you. Inside, you’ll be dazzled by the intricate gold mosaics.
Piazza Farnese It wasn’t too long ago that Piazza Farnese was a parking lot a short walk from the Campo de’Fiori, an open air fruit and vegetable market that has been operating since 1869. Today it’s an open, public square with two fountains featuring giant tubs taken from the ancient Baths of Caracalla. Here, go see Palazzo Farnese, commissioned by Alessandro Farnese (later Pope Paul III), who also had Michelangelo add elements like a cornice to the exterior. After the Farnese line died out, the French Embassy moved into the palace, where it remains today.
Piazza Monti Located in Monti, adjacent to the Coliseum and Forum, the Piazza della Madonna dei Monti takes its name from the nearby Church of Santa Maria dei Monti and features buildings dating back to the 14th century. You’ll find locals gathering near the fountain, designed by Giacomo Della Porta in 1588, while children play. Make a point to stroll through the vintage shops lining the piazza, where gladiators once walked. Grab a bite to eat at Bottega del Caffe and spend time people watching, or explore the piazza’s vibrant nightlife — this is one of the few places in Rome where drinking on the street is not only tolerated but encouraged.