The best time to visit the Spanish Steps in Rome Italy is very early in the morning. That is, if you want a photo like this one, taken by a runner-friend of mine.
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The Spanish Steps is a wonderful landmark in Rome but to Romans, it's best known for being "the shopping zone." There are a few cultural things to do, a few good restaurants, wine bars and cafe's, but really it is the shopping epi-center of Rome.
I would also consider it to be the near-perfect location to stay in in Rome, because there is a metro stop (Spagna), it's pretty quiet at night, when the shops close, it's very safe (like most central Rome neighbourhoods), and it's central to nearly everything you want to see. But this is of course what makes the Spanish Steps Rome Italy's most expensive neighbourhood to stay in.
Click here to jump to my links for pages about about shopping, eating and staying near the Spanish Steps.
View from the top of the Spanish Steps. See the Vatican dome way in the right-side background?
Let's start at the top shall we?
The church at the top of the Spanish Steps is called "Trinità dei Monti", or actually "La Trinité-des-Monts", since it is a French church. The church has been there since the 1500's and originally, there was just a sloped hill in front of it, going down to the square below.
The "plaza" at the bottom of the Spanish Steps is sometimes called "The Spanish Square" in English, although it is definitely not square shaped. (It's kind of like a sharp-edged hourglass, with the smallest point being the bottom of the steps, and the larger ends fanning out left and right from there.)
Anyway, the plaza is called "Piazza di Spagna" because of the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See, which has been based there since 1647.
Starting in the mid 1600's, the king of France started negotiating with the pope about how to build a staircase that would link the French church at the top with the plaza below. This discussion (and ensuing arguments) went on for about 100 years (with different kings and popes of course) until finally, in 1717, Pope Innocent XIII held a contest and commissioned the design to Francesco de Sanctis, a little-known architect.
The staircase, ("scalinata" in Italian), was built between 1723-1725. It has 135 steps and is the widest staircase in Europe.
The fountain at the bottom is called "La Barcaccia", which means "ugly boat." It was built by the father of one of Rome's most famous and prolific architects, Gian Lorenzo Bernini: Pietro Bernini. Although it seems that Gian Lorenzo may also have helped in the design.
The fountain was built in 1627-29, and the reason it is attributed more to the father than to the son is that Pietro Bernini was in charge of the distribution of the water from the Acqua Vergine, one of Rome's ancient aqueducts that had only been recently restored. Low water pressure from this aqueduct was likely the reason for the design of the boat.
Now, the stuff you really want to know:
The above is a rare picture of the Spanish Steps with snow, from when we had a bizarre snowfall in Rome in January/February 2012.
Return to the top of Spanish Steps Rome Italy.