Spanish steps in Rome
There are few places in the world that express romance the way that the Spanish Steps in Rome do. This masterpiece is considered to be a highlight of the Baroque era in Rome and it was built to connect the Spanish Steps with the church at the top Trinita di Monti. In total there are 138 steps spanning across a large area located in the heart of Rome’s shopping district. For centuries the marble steps have been some sort of idyllic fairytale meeting point for artists, poets and lovers since it’s inauguration around the early 18th Century.
The steps were designed by a lesser-known architect of time named Francesco De Sanctis. The purpose of the staircase was to connect the Spanish square at the base of the Pincian Hill with the church that sat on top of it. Pope Innocent XIII decided to hold a competition for artists of Rome to design the new staircase and Franco won. During this period of time, it was common for Pope’s to commission art to the winners of competitions. It is believed to have inspired the artists. The Trevi Fountain has a similar story.
Spanish or French?
The church located at the top of the Spanish Steps is called Trinita di Monti. During the 18th century this church was under the patronage of the Kings of France and it was a french diplomat that financed the construction of the steps and they were named La Scalinata di Trinità dei monti. Originally there was nothing Spanish about the steps, in fact they might as well have been the French Steps.
So why are they called the Spanish steps? Well the square at the base of the Spanish Steps is called Spanish square, or Piazza di Spagna, because located in the square is the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See. When Trinita dei Monti ended it’s patronage to the Kings of France the sneaky Spaniards saw the opportunity to name the steps after the square below rather than the church atop!
A Sinking Ship
The literal translation for piazza di Spagna is the Spanish square, although there’s nothing square about the shape of it! The focal point of the ‘square’ is a decorative fountain that was designed by the famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini called the Barciacca. In Italian, a Barca is a boat and the suffix aicca means a broken version of the word it’s applied to… so Barciacca means a broken boat. The fountain was built before the Spanish steps between the years of 1627-1629.
Legend says that Bernini built the fountain in the style because of a boat that landed in that position almost 30 years prior. During the Christmas flood of 1598 the river tiber burst its banks and miraculously the boat was carried into the heart of Rome inspiring the design of the fountain.
The water that supplies the La Barcaccia comes from the Acqua Vergine. The Acqua Vergine is a Roman Aqueduct that is over 2000 years old! Amazingly, it is still operational today, although it has been restored over time. It is the last one in use of the 11 major ancient aqueducts that fuelled Rome people, fountains, and bathhouses.