The northern half of central Rome is known as the Tridente, thanks to the trident shape formed by three roads—Via di Ripetta, Via del Corso, and Via del Babuino—leading down from Piazza del Popolo. The area around Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps was once the artistic quarter of the city, attracting English poets Keats and Shelley, German author Goethe, and film director Federico Fellini (who lived on Via Margutta). Institutions such as Antico Caffè Greco and Babington’s Tea Rooms are still here, but between the high rents and the throngs of tourists and shoppers, you’re unlikely to see many artists left.
The undoubted highlight of Tridente is Piazza di Spagna, which attracts hordes of tourists to admire its celebrated Spanish Steps (Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti), the widest stairway in Europe. The Steps are especially enchanting in early spring, when they’re framed by thousands of blooming azaleas. At their foot lies “Fontana della Barcaccia,” a fountain shaped like an old boat, the work of Pietro Bernini, father of sculptor and fountain-master Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Built from 1723 to 1725, the monumental stairway of 135 steps and the square take their names from the Spanish Embassy (it used to be headquartered here), but were actually funded almost entirely by the French. That’s because the Trinità dei Monti church at the top was under the patronage of the Bourbon kings of France at the time. The stately baroque facade of the 16th-century Trinità dei Monti is perched photogenically at the top of the Steps, behind yet another Roman obelisk, the “Obelisco Sallustiano.” It’s worth climbing up just for the views.
Inside, the artistic highlights include works by Daniele da Volterra, a pupil of Michelangelo, notably a fresco of the “Assumption” in the third chapel on the right; the last figure on the right is said to be a portrait of the maestro himself. In the second chapel on the left is Volterra’s critically acclaimed “Deposition” in monochrome, which imitates a sculpture by clever use of trompe l'oeil.
No Swimming or Picnicking Allowed
In an effort to keep tourists from littering the city’s monuments, or soaking their feet and even swimming (yes, it’s happened) in its famous fountains, visitors are no longer permitted to picnic (or even eat a gelato) on the Spanish Steps, or sit on the edge of the Trevi and other landmark fountains. You can stop long enough for a photo or coin toss, but don’t plan on getting comfortable (or taking a dip).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.