Liepa Valiulytė

Piazza Barberini: Everything You Need to Know

A comprehensive guide to Piazza Barberini, delving into its history, significance, and visitor information.

Piazza Barberini in Rome


Did you know that Piazza Barberini was once the site of an ancient circus where floral games were held in honor of springtime? Or that it was the starting point of a festive procession of strawberries and flowers that ended at the Pantheon? Or that it was where unidentified corpses were displayed for public recognition until the 18th century? These are some of the intriguing facts and stories that surround this historic square in the center of Rome, named after the powerful Barberini family who built their magnificent palace here in the 17th century. In this article, we will explore the origins, historical significance, lesser-known stories, and dark histories of Piazza Barberini, as well as admire the artistic masterpieces of Bernini that adorn it.

Historical Context

Piazza Barberini is located on the Quirinal Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome and the highest point in the city. The hill was originally occupied by temples and villas of the Roman aristocracy, and later became the seat of several popes and kings. The square itself was created in the 16th century on the site of the ancient circus of Flora, a goddess of flowers and spring. The circus was a venue for games and spectacles that celebrated the renewal of nature and fertility. According to some sources, the circus was also used for executions and gladiator fights.

The square took its name from Cardinal Francesco Barberini, who bought the land in 1625 to build his family palace. The Barberini were one of the most influential and wealthy families in Rome, thanks to their close ties with Pope Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini), who was Francesco's uncle. The pope granted his nephew many privileges and favors, including the right to use his coat of arms, which featured three bees. The bees became a symbol of the Barberini family and can be seen in many places around Rome, including on the fountains of Piazza Barberini.

The Palazzo Barberini was designed by three of the most renowned architects of the Baroque era: Carlo Maderno, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Francesco Borromini. The palace is a masterpiece of architecture and art, featuring a grand staircase, a majestic salon with a frescoed ceiling by Pietro da Cortona, and a gallery with paintings by Raphael, Caravaggio, Holbein, and other masters. The palace also housed a theater built by Bernini in 1634, which was intended as a court theater for the pope and his guests. The theater was accessed through a large arch on the southeast corner of the square, which was demolished in the 19th century to make way for a new road. However, its appearance is known from engravings and early photographs.

At the center of Piazza Barberini stands one of Bernini's most famous sculptures: the Fontana del Tritone (Triton Fountain), created in 1642-43. The fountain depicts Triton, a mythological creature who was half-man and half-fish, blowing a conch shell to produce a jet of water. The fountain is a symbol of the power and generosity of Pope Urban VIII, who commissioned Bernini to create several fountains around Rome to provide clean water to the citizens. The fountain is also an example of Bernini's mastery of movement and expression, as well as his ability to harmonize sculpture and architecture.

Another fountain by Bernini can be found in Via Vittorio Veneto, near Piazza Barberini. It is called Fontana delle Api (Fountain of the Bees), and it was created in 1644 as a tribute to Pope Urban VIII and his family. The fountain consists of a large shell with three bees drinking from it. The bees represent not only the Barberini coat of arms, but also their virtues: diligence, loyalty, and courage. The fountain also has an inscription that reads: "Urban VIII Pont Max has built this little fountain for public use and ornament". The fountain was originally located on the corner of Via Sistina and Piazza Barberini, but it was moved to its current location in 1917 after being damaged by traffic. However, its reconstruction was not faithful to Bernini's original design, which can be seen in old drawings and photographs.

Architectural Features

Piazza Barberini is a large square in the city center of Rome, Italy, situated on the Quirinal Hill. It was created in the 16th century by Cardinal Francesco Barberini, who also commissioned the construction of the Palazzo Barberini, a magnificent Baroque palace that houses the National Gallery of Ancient Art. The square is adorned with two fountains designed by Bernini: the Fontana del Tritone, which depicts a triton blowing a conch shell amid four dolphins, and the Fontana delle Api, which shows three bees drinking from a shell.

The square has a rectangular shape, with the Palazzo Barberini occupying the south side and other buildings of various styles and periods lining the other sides. The square is connected to Via Veneto, a famous street that was the center of the "Dolce Vita" in the 1950s and 1960s. The square also features an obelisk that was originally erected by Hadrian in his villa and later moved to the gardens of the Villa Medici. The obelisk was removed from the square in 1822 and replaced by a smaller one in 1926.

The architectural style of the square is mainly Baroque, influenced by the works of Bernini and Cortona. The Palazzo Barberini is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture, with its majestic façade, its grand staircase, its frescoed ceilings, and its rich collection of paintings. The fountains are also examples of Bernini's genius, combining sculpture, water, and movement to create dynamic and dramatic effects. The Fontana del Tritone is especially impressive for its size and its symbolism: it represents the power of the Barberini family, whose coat of arms included three bees.

Iconic Buildings

Tips and Recommendations

If you want to visit Piazza Barberini and admire its architectural features, here are some tips and recommendations for you:


Piazza Barberini is one of the most charming squares in Rome, where you can admire the art and architecture of the Baroque period. It is also a lively place where you can experience the culture and lifestyle of the Eternal City. Whether you are interested in history, art, or entertainment, Piazza Barberini has something for everyone.