Did you know that Piazza Navona had been a lake?

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Pannini Paint of Piazza Navona

Too hot in Rome?

A summer blue lagoon in one of the most delightful squares of the Eternal City – this was the project of Donna Olimpia Pamphilj in 1652. Olimpia was the all-powerful sister-in-law of Pope Innocent X. As papal family’s palace overlooked Piazza Navona, she decided to turn it into a unique backdrop for aristocratic carriage rides.

So, she got the popular market moved away in 1651. After that, on June of the following year, Olimpia obtained to flood the square with the water of its three monumental fountains. She made the drains of the fountains closed, to fill up the convex pavement of the time with water. It was about half-a-meter high.


Piazza Navona  Carrani Tours

Piazza Navona


Piazza Navona like in the ancient times

Olimpia’s idea was to recreate, in this historical plaza, the classical entertainment of staging naval battles. It was perfect for the sumptuous aristocrats. Actually, they got used to decorating their coaches as little boats and traditional gondolas. Very special summer parades began across the little lake.

But it turned perfect for common people too. Children ran to Piazza Navona to enjoy the coaches’ shows, the music of the military bands or the food stands on the banks. Romans and foreign visitors admired boat races and performances. They loved also to play tricks in the water and to have cool baths, in spite of the official prohibitions and corporal punishment for skinny-dipping.


Old Piazza Navona Painting

Old Piazza Navona Painting


A summer custom

In short, Olimpia’s idea turned so perfect that became immediately a tradition. Every year until 1866, every weekend in August, Rome had its blue lagoon. Only between 1676 and 1703 this custom was suspended, for hygiene precautions. Pope Clement XI resumed it only in honor of the Queen of Poland, when she visited the Eternal City exactly in the summer of 1703.

So, next time you or your traveling guests think about a refreshing bath in Roman fountains, remember that it’s forbidden… but don’t forget the lovely festive lake of Piazza Navona.


Piazza Navona - Rivers Fountain

Piazza Navona – Rivers Fountain


Of course, for any information about our tours in the center of the Eternal City, feel free of contacting us and have a look at our Sightseeing Rome Catalogue.

Painting credits: Giovanni Paolo Pannini, Piazza Navona, Hanover, Lower Saxony State Museum, 1756, via Wikimedia Commons