Piazza di Spagna – Bernini’s Revenge
One of the most romantic places in Rome is undoubtedly Piazza di Spagna. This masterpiece is considered a highlight of the Baroque era in Rome. They built it to connect the Spanish Steps with the church at the top of Trinità di Monti via a long flight of steps.
At the base of this famous staircase is the Fountain of the Barcaccia. The fountain that occupies the center of the square was designed by Pietro Bernini. His son, the more famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini, finished it in 1627.
The fountain is shaped like a boat with identical prow and stern, immersed in an oval pool. The name, which may appear derogatory, actually celebrates the well-known barcacce used to transport wine. What was the father Bernini inspired to design it? Some say that a naumachia (a building where naval games and battles took place) existed in the area. Others claim instead that Pope Urban VIII was fascinated by a boat transported there during a flood of the Tiber. In reality, the illusion that the carved boat is about to sink is due to a useful ploy to solve the problem of low water pressure that fed the fountain.
Speaking of the Spanish Steps and Bernini, one cannot fail to mention a curious anecdote concerning the rivalry between them and another great architect, Borromini.
Borromini obtained the commission for the Palace of Propaganda Fide upon the death of Pope Urban VIII. He not only completed the work masterfully, but also allowed himself time to spite his rival who lived across the street. The artist decorated both the windows and the papal coat of arms with huge donkey ears. Bernini immediately went on the counterattack by sculpting a gigantic phallus on his own terrace. The provocative interventions by one and the other were soon removed for reasons of decency and decorum, but they remain among the many anecdotes about their rivalry.