Piazza del Popolo lies inside the northern gate, known as Porta del Popolo, and prior to the arrival of the railway, in the middle of the 19th century, this spacious piazza was a northern visitor's first view of Rome.
Piazza del Popolo was given its present symmetrical layout by the Roman architect, Giuseppe Valadier (1762-1839), between 1811 and 1822. In the centre of each hemicycle, at the sides of the piazza, is a fountain surmounted by groups of statues (1824): Neptune with two Tritons (west) and Goddess Roma between the Tiber and Anio, both the work of Giovanni Ceccarini. At either ends of the two hemicycles stand statues of the Four Seasons.
At the base of the ancient Egyptian obelisk, which graces the centre of the piazza, stands the Fontana dei Leoni (1828), which was also designed by Valadier. The fountain actually takes the form of four mini-fountains, each comprising a marble lion on a stepped plinth.
A plaque near Porta del Popolo is a grim reminder that Piazza del Popolo was once the site of public executions. The plaque states that Angelo Targhini and Leonida Montanari, two members of a political group known as the Carbonari, were executed in the piazza on November 23rd, 1825.
The pair were just two of many to be executed here. On May 19th, 1817, Lord Byron witnessed three executions in Piazza del Popolo. And thirty years later, in 1845, Charles Dickens observed a single execution, which he describes in his book Pictures from Italy (1846).
Giovanni Battista Bugatti (1779–1869) was Rome's official executioner from 1796 to 1864. Nicknamed Mastro Titta, a corruption of maestro di giustizia (master of justice), he was the city's longest-serving executioner.
Blogging about Rome,
its art, history and culture.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
small-group walking tours
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