Piazza del Popolo is a large urban square in Rome
. The name in modern Italian literally means "People's Square", but historically it derives from the poplars (populus in Latin, pioppo in Italian) after which the church of Santa Maria del Popolo
, in the northeast corner of the piazza, takes its name. The piazza lies inside the northern gate in the Aurelian Walls
, once the Porta Flaminia of ancient Rome, and now called the Porta del Popolo. This was the starting point of the Via Flaminia, the road to Ariminum (modern day Rimini
) and the most important route to the north. At the same time, before the age of railroads, it was the traveller's First
view of Rome upon arrival. For centuries, the Piazza del Popolo was a place for public executions, the last of which took place in 1826.
The layout of the piazza today was designed in neoclassical Style
between 1811 and 1822 by the architect Giuseppe Valadier, He removed a modest fountain by Giacomo Della Porta, erected in 1572, and demolished some insignificant buildings and haphazard high screening walls to form two semicircles, reminiscent of Bernini's plan for St. Peter's Square, replacing the original cramped trapezoidal square centred on the Via Flaminia. Valadier's Piazza del Popolo, however, incorporated the verdure of trees as an essential element; he conceived his space in a third dimension, expressed in the building of the viale that leads up to the balustraded overlook from the Pincio.
An Egyptian obelisk of Sety I (later erected by Rameses II) from Heliopolis stands in the centre of the Piazza. Three sides of the obelisk were carved during the reign of Sety I and the fourth side, under Rameses II. The obelisk, known as the obelisco Flaminio
or the Popolo Obelisk, is the second oldest and one of the tallest obelisks in Rome (some 24 m high, or 36 m including its plinth). The obelisk was brought to Rome in 10 BC by order of Augustus
and originally set up in the Circus Maximus
. It was re-erected here in the piazza by the architect-engineer Domenico Fontana in 1589 as part of the urban plan of Sixtus V. The piazza also formerly contained a central fountain, which was moved to the Piazza Nicosia in 1818, when fountains, in the form of Egyptian-style lions, were added around the base of the obelisk.
Fountains by Giovanni
Ceccarini (1822-23), with matching compositions of a central figure flanked by two attendant figures, stand on each side of the piazza to the east and west, flanked by neoclassical statues of The Seasons (1828). The Fontana del Nettuno
(Fountain Of Neptune
) stands on the west side, Neptune with his trident is accompanied by two dolphins. Rome between the Tiber and the Aniene
on the east side, against the steep slope of the Pincio, represents the Terminal
mostra of the aqueduct. Dea Roma
armed with lance and helmet, and in front is the she-wolf feeding Romulus and Remus. At the center of the piazza is the Fontana dell' Obelisco: a group of four mini fountains, each comprising a lion on a stepped plinth, surround the obelisk.