Elegant Piazza del Popolo ★★ is haunted with memories. According to legend, the ashes of Nero were enshrined here, until 11th-century residents began complaining to the pope about his imperial ghost. The Egyptian obelisk dates from the 13th century b.c.; it was removed from Heliopolis to Rome during Augustus’s reign (and once stood at the Circus Maximus).
The current piazza was designed in the early 19th century by Napoleon’s architect, Valadier. The 15th-century Santa Maria del Popolo ★★ is at its northern curve, its facade modified by the great Bernini between 1655 and 1660 in a baroque style. Raphael’s mosaic series the “Creation of the World” adorns the interior of the dome of the Capella Chigi inside the church (the second chapel on the left), and Pinturicchio decorated the main choir vault with frescoes such as the “Coronation of the Virgin.” The Capella Cerasi (to the left of the high altar), contains gorgeous examples of baroque art: an altarpiece painting of “The Assumption of Mary” by Carracci, and on either side two great works by Caravaggio, “Conversion on the Road to Damascus” and “The Crucifixion of Saint Peter.” Opposite Santa Maria del Popolo, standing astride the three roads that form the “trident,” are almost-twin baroque churches, Santa Maria dei Miracoli (1681) and Santa Maria di Montesanto (1679).
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