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 Essential Architecture-  ROME

Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps


Alessandro Specchi


Rome, Italy


1721 to 1725


Italian Baroque


System cut stone bearing masonry 


Outdoor space, plaza, stairway
  The square in an 18th century etching by Giuseppe Vasi, seen from south. The street on the left is Via del Babuino, leading to Piazza del Popolo.
View of the Barcaccia Fountain from the northern side of Piazza di Spagna.

Moses and David at the Column of the Immacolata, erected in 1854 in the southeast part of the Piazza.

Moses and David at the Column of the Immacolata, erected in 1854 in the southeast part of the Piazza.
The Spanish Steps (Italian: Scalinata di Piazza di Spagna) is a set of stairs in Rome, ramping a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, with the church Trinità dei Monti, above.

The monumental stairway, of 138 steps, was built with French diplomat Stefano Gueffier’s funds (20,000 scudi) in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish embassy to the Holy See, today still located in the piazza below, with the Trinità dei Monti church above.

Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps were designed by Francesco De Sanctis after generations of heated discussion over how the steep slope to the church on a shoulder of the Pincio should be urbanized. The solution is a gigantic inflation of some conventions of terraced garden stairs.

During Christmas time a 19th-century crib is assembled in the first landing of the staircase. During May, half of the monument is covered by pots of azaleas. In modern times the Spanish Steps have included a small cut-flower market, a favorite place for eating lunch (now officially frowned upon and rewarded with fines) or picking up a gigolo. The apartment that was the setting for The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (1961) is halfway up on the right. Bernardo Bertolucci's Besieged (1998) is also set in a house next to the steps.

The Spanish Steps have been restored several times, most recently in 1995.

Piazza di Spagna
In the Piazza at the base is the Early Baroque fountain called the Barcaccia ("The Ugly Boat"), often credited to Pietro Bernini, father of a more famous son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who is sometimes said to have collaborated on the decoration. According to an unlikely legend, Pope Urban VIII had the fountain installed after he had been impressed by a boat brought here by a flood of the Tiber river.

Also in the piazza, at the corner on the right as one begins to climb the steps, is the house where English poet John Keats lived and died in 1821; it is now a museum dedicated to his memory, full of memorabilia of the English Romantic generation. On the same right side stands the 15th century former cardinal Cybo’s palace, now Ferrari di Valbona, a building altered in 1936 to designs by Marcello Piacentini, the main city planner during Fascism, with modern terraces perfectly in harmony with the surrounding baroque context.

At the top the Viale ramps up the Pincio which is the Pincian Hill, omitted, like the Janiculum, from the classic Seven hills of Rome. From the top of the steps the Villa Medici can also be easily reached.

Claudio Rendina, Enciclopedia di Roma. Newton Compton, Roma (2000). 
Carlo Alberto Ferrari di Valbona I viventi diritti dell’Italia a palazzo Farnese alla scalinata ed alla Trinità dei Monti in Roma. Edizioni d’Arte in Roma, Italy (1965). 
Pio Pecchiai, Regesti dei documenti patrimoniali del Convento Romano della Trinità dei Monti. Archivi anno XXV pagg. 406-423 (1958).