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Piazza della Repubblica: Everything You Need to Know

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

Piazza della Repubblica in Rome


Did you know that Piazza della Repubblica, one of the main squares of Rome, was once part of the largest bath complex in the ancient world? Or that it has a fountain with four controversial nude nymphs that caused a scandal when they were unveiled? Or that it is home to a basilica that was designed by Michelangelo and contains a meridian line that was used to measure time and date? These are just some of the intriguing facts and stories that make Piazza della Repubblica a fascinating place to visit and explore.

Piazza della Repubblica is a circular piazza in Rome, at the summit of the Viminal Hill, next to the Termini station. It is served by the Repubblica – Teatro dell'Opera Metro station. From the square starts one of the main streets of Rome, Via Nazionale. The piazza was built in the late 19th century, during the urban redevelopment undertaken after Rome was declared capital of Italy. However, its origins date back to the 3rd century AD, when it was part of the Baths of Diocletian, which covered an area of 120,000 square meters and could accommodate up to 3,000 people. The piazza preserves some of the ancient structures of the baths, such as the exedra (a semi-circular open room with seating) that gives it its shape, and the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, which was converted from a wing of the baths by Michelangelo in the 16th century.

Historical Context

The Baths of Diocletian were built between 298 and 306 AD by the emperor Diocletian, who wanted to create a monumental complex that would rival the earlier baths of Caracalla and Trajan. The baths were not only a place for bathing, but also for socializing, exercising, studying, and relaxing. They included a caldarium (hot bath), a tepidarium (warm bath), a frigidarium (cold bath), a natatio (swimming pool), a gymnasium, a library, a lecture hall, gardens, fountains, statues, and mosaics. The baths were supplied with water by the Aqua Marcia aqueduct, which was restored and enlarged by Diocletian. The baths were in use until the 6th century, when they were damaged by the Gothic War and abandoned.

In the Middle Ages, the ruins of the baths were used as a quarry for building materials, and also as a shelter for pilgrims and refugees. In the 16th century, Pope Pius IV commissioned Michelangelo to transform part of the baths into a church dedicated to Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri (Saint Mary of the Angels and Martyrs), in honor of the Christians who were killed during the construction of the baths. Michelangelo used the tepidarium as one of the wings of his spacious Greek cross plan, and preserved some of the original features of the baths, such as the vaults, the niches, and the windows. He also designed a meridian line on the floor of the church, which was used to determine the exact time and date by observing the sun's position through a hole in the wall. The meridian line was later restored and improved by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 17th century, and by Francesco Bianchini in the 18th century.

In 1870, Rome became the capital of Italy, and underwent a major urban transformation. The old city walls were demolished, new streets were opened, and new buildings were erected. The area around the Baths of Diocletian was chosen as one of the sites for this modernization project. The architect Gaetano Koch designed a circular piazza with porticos around it, inspired by the ancient exedra of the baths. The piazza was initially called Piazza dell'Esedra, but was renamed Piazza della Repubblica in 1946, after Italy became a republic. In 1888, a fountain was built in the center of the piazza by Alessandro Guerrieri, featuring four plaster lions. In 1901, the lions were replaced by four bronze sculptures of naiads (water nymphs) by Mario Rutelli, representing the nymphs of lakes, rivers, oceans, and underground waters. The naiads were depicted in sensual poses, with one of them riding a horse and another leaning over a dragon. The nudity and eroticism of the naiads caused a public outcry, and the fountain was nicknamed "the fountain of shame". In 1911, Rutelli added a fifth sculpture in the middle of the fountain, representing Glaucus, a sea god who symbolized the dominion of man over natural forces.

Architectural Features

Piazza della Repubblica is one of the main squares of Rome, located at the summit of the Viminal Hill, next to the Termini station. It was designed during the urban redevelopment undertaken after Rome was declared capital of Italy in 1870. The square has a circular shape, inspired by the large exedra of the baths of Diocletian, which gives the square its former name, Piazza dell'Esedra.

The most striking feature of the square is the Fontana delle Naiadi, a majestic fountain that stands at the center of the roundabout. The fountain was originally decorated with four plaster lions, but they were replaced in 1901 with sculptures of four nude naiads (water nymphs) by Mario Rutelli. The naiads represent the nymph of the lakes, the nymph of the rivers, the nymph of the oceans, and the nymph of the underground waters. In the center of the fountain is Rutelli's Glauco group, symbolizing the dominion of man over natural force. The fountain caused much controversy at the time for its nudity and eroticism.

Another remarkable building in the square is the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, which is based on a wing of the baths of Diocletian. The basilica was designed by Michelangelo, who used the tepidarium as one of the wings of its spacious Greek cross plan. The basilica contains many artistic and historical treasures, such as frescoes by Domenichino and Carlo Maratta, a meridian line by Francesco Bianchini, and the tombs of several Italian patriots.

Iconic Buildings

Besides the fountain and the basilica, there are other notable buildings in or around the piazza, such as:

Tips and Recommendations

If you want to visit Piazza della Repubblica and its attractions, here are some tips and recommendations for you:


Piazza della Repubblica is a must-see destination for anyone who loves history, art, and culture. The square offers a unique blend of ancient and modern architecture, with a stunning fountain as its centerpiece. The square is also surrounded by many attractions that will appeal to different tastes and interests. Whether you want to admire Michelangelo's masterpiece, enjoy an opera performance, or explore Roman art, you will find something to satisfy your curiosity in Piazza della Repubblica.