Among the most famous squares in the Eternal City and perfectly located in the heart of the historic center, Campo de’ Fiori is one of the most charming places to visit in Rome. Spend enough time in the city, and you will end up there eventually. But if you only have a few days, make sure to factor it in your itinerary, as it would be a pity to miss it.
But what’s so special about Campo de’ Fiori, Rome? Continue reading: in this post I will share the history and the main things to see and do in this lovely part of the Italian capital.
The History Of Campo de’ Fiori, Rome
As with much of the ancient city Rome, Campo de’ Fiori is coated in layers upon layers of history. The name of this storied piazza itself provides clues as to its past: it literally means “Field of Flowers”.
During the days of ancient Rome, the area of Campo de’ Fiori was hardly used due to constant flooding from the Tiber River. It was situated near the Theater of Pompey (completed in 55 BC), which featured a large garden filled with statues.
Due to this state of not being used, the area remained a natural meadow (albeit one prone to flooding) filled with flowers – hence the name.
In the 13th century, the aristocratic Orsini family set up a residential base on the south side of what would eventually become the famous square. But even the presence of the influential family didn’t affect the development of the marshy space, which wouldn’t happen until much later – in the 15th century, to be exact.
It could have started with a late middle ages church. The first church in the Campo de’ Fiori was built during the rule of Pope Boniface IX (who was Pope from 1389 to 1404), the Santa Brigida a Campo de’ Fiori.
But it wasn’t until 1456 that the area was transformed from its muddy riverside state to a paved, developed space. This was carried out by Pope Callixtus III, part of a wider project to improve the surrounding district as a whole.
It was around this time that the 13th-century Orsini Palace, too, was rebuilt. This resulted in the Renaissance style Palazzo della Cancelleria.
Though the square is home to some attractive buildings, including churches and palaces, unlike others in the city, the piazza itself was never formally designed. Instead of its beauty, it’s more the organic way the Campo de’ Fiori has been used by the people for trading and commercial activity that make it such a central focus of the city. Even the streets that lead from the square are named for the trades connected to it: think hatmakers, keymakers, coffer-makers (coffers are chests for money).
Wealth proper was brought to this part of Rome when the square was connected to the Via Papale – the Pope’s Road, connecting the Basilica of Saint John Lateran with the Vatican. This increased access was created under Pope Sixtus IV in the late 15th century. The Pope traveled this road as part of his procession through the city after his successful election in 1471.
One of the more notable commercial activities that took place at Campo de’ Fiori was the horse market that took place twice a week: Mondays and Saturdays. This attracted many people to the area, interested in buying and selling horses. This also brought with it an increase in shops, hotels and inns to the square in order to cater for the crowds; some of these can still be seen there to this day.
However, there is also a darker history to this colorful, commercially minded square. Executions used to take place in Campo de’ Fiori, undertaken in front of a public audience. One of the most famous executions to occur was on the 17th February, 1600, when friar and philosopher Giordano Bruno was gruesomely burnt alive during the Roman Inquisition.
His alternative religious beliefs were considered dangerous to Catholicism; one being that the universe was infinite, and that distant planets may harbor life of their own. His books were also placed in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books).
Bruno’s death was protested against at the time, and he became a figurehead of free thought – even up to the present day. A statue dedicated to him was placed in Campo de’ Fiori in 1889. But it was not only Bruno who suffered this horrible fate. Theologian Marco Antonio de Dominis was also burnt alive in 1624. Notorious criminals were also burned here, such as poisoner Gironima Spana.
It was also here, in 1553, that the Holy Office of the Catholic Church burned the Jewish holy text, Tulmud, on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). A plaque in the square still commemorates this event.
The piazza began to look more like it does today in 1858, when buildings were demolished to make more room for a housing block. In 1869, the Campo de’ Fiori began to host a vibrant vegetable and fish market, which had been moved from Piazza Navona. This colorful spectacle still takes place to this day, and mirrors the mercantile past of the square.
Campo de’ Fiori In The Modern Day
The atmosphere of the Campo de’ Fiori
One of the best things to do in Campo de’ Fiori, especially if you have never been before, is simply to take some time soaking up the atmosphere. It’s an energetic part of the city, colorful and filled with life, and never dull. Before trying to do any more in-depth sightseeing in the piazza, just take some time to wander around – or just stand back and watch it all happening.
You can’t visit Campo de’ Fiori without experiencing its market. This is part and parcel of the piazza, and so at least browsing the market – if not buying something, too, and interacting with the vendors – is a must while you’re here. Usually the market starts early in the morning and runs until midday or so. It’s open during the week, Monday-Friday. Although it might not be as authentic as it once was, it’s still an enjoyable place to sample food and pick up some fresh flowers.
You should read my post The Most Popular Markets In Rome.
La Terrina Fountain
The fountain is a landmark in the square. Its name, La Terrina, literally means “soup bowl” in Italian, referring to its origins as a public drinking trough for cattle. The fountain is not the original; that was moved in 1889, with a copy being in its place.
Interestingly, the fountain is inscribed with the words: “Fa del ben e lassa dir” — “Do good, and let them talk” — reflecting the gossipy nature of the marketplace.
Read my post The Prettiest Fountains In Rome.
Giordano Bruno Statue
The statue of Giordano Bruno occupies a central space in the market, keeping a watchful eye over the goings on. The statue was erected in 1889, and is the work of Italian sculptor Ettore Ferrari. It sits on the exact spot where Bruno died.
A foreboding figure, the statue sees the philosopher cloaked and hooded, defiantly facing in the direction of the Vatican – a martyr to freedom of thought. On the base of the statue, an inscription reads:
“A Bruno – il secolo da lui divinato – qui dove il rogo arse”
“To Bruno – the century predicted by him – here where the fire burned”.
Head over to my post All The Must See Statues In Rome.
Palazzo della Cancelleria
One of the most notable buildings in Campo de’ Fiori is the Palazzo della Cancelleria (literally Palace of the Chancelry). This Renaissance palace was built in 1485, replacing the original Orsini Palace and an ancient church that stood here. As well as being part of the Papal offices for several centuries, the palace also plays host to a permanent exhibition of Leonardo Da Vinci’s work.
It’s here that replicas of Da Vinci’s creations are on display, as well as some of his blueprints and drawings. Aside from the Da Vinci exhibition, the palace boasts elegant interiors and a magnificent courtyard – a nice place to get a little peace and quiet, and some shade in the summer.
There are numerous coffee shops scattered around the piazza, all featuring terrace seating. These cafes are the perfect place to pull up a chair and sit for a while, enjoying the ambience of the area. Don’t miss out on this experience!
Some of the better cafes in Campo de’ Fiori include Forno Campo de’ Fiori, which sells baked goods (and pizza); there’s also the charming Taba Cafe, which boasts delicious coffee; and the no-frills Bar Farnese, with a scattering of terrace seating on one of the nearby streets.
Bars and Restaurants
As evening falls on the square, the atmosphere starts to change. The sunny terrace cafes become busy bars, alive with tourists and locals alike who head to the area to enjoy a few drinks. It’s a popular after-work spot for aperitivo, ideally paired with snack food such as suppli (deep fried rice balls with mozzarella).
There’s a long list of places to enjoy a drink in the area. This includes the popular The Drunken Ship, an easygoing option with a large terrace and refreshing draught beer to choose from. For something less touristy, Roma Beer Company is a nice option for beer-lovers; otherwise, check Al Biscione Cafe, open till 2:00 am, a cozy spot with great cocktails.
Taverna della Vacca
Also a reflection of the history of Campo de’ Fiori is the Taverna della Vacca (literally Cow’s Inn). In the middle ages, the area became home to an influx of inns and hotels; in fact, at the time, almost every building in the square hosted its own inn at some point.
One of them still stands to this day: the Taverna della Vacca, situated in the southwest corner of the piazza, near the Via dei Cappellari. The inn was opened in 1513 by Vannozza dei Cattanei, the mistress of Pope Alexander VI following his death.
Known as a shrewd businesswoman, Cattanei amassed a small fortune from properties around the city. But it was at Taverna della Vacca that she would find most success; it was said to be the haunt of prostitutes.
Upon her death, she left all of her wealth to charities and religious institutions. Her coat of arms – complete with symbolic allusions to the Pope – can still be seen on the exterior of the inn.
The surrounding roads
Don’t just stick to the square itself when visiting Campo de’ Fiori; some of the area’s most interesting history can be unraveled by exploring the streets that branch from the piazza. Clues as to the history of each of the roads can be seen in their names.
There’s the Via dei Giubbonari (Road of Tailors), Via dei Baullari (Road of Coffer-makers), Via dei Balestrari (Road of Crossbow-makers), Via dei Cappellari (Road of Hat-makers) and Via dei Chiavari (Road of Key-makers). There are actually more than is necessary to write here!
Just meters from the Campo de’ Fiori is the very grand Palazzo Farnese. It’s so close by that it would be a shame to miss out on this grand 16th-century abode. The history of this building dates back to 1517, and was expanded under Alessandro Farnese – later to become Pope Paul III in 1534.
Throughout its history, the building has been worked upon by a list of prominent architects, including Michelangelo, Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola, and Giacomo della Porta.
Palazzo Farnese is now home to the French Embassy. Don’t worry though, it’s still open to the public at certain times. Specifically that’s on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You have to book a tour at least a week in advance; the 45-minute tours are conducted in English, French and Italian.
Read my post The Most Interesting Museums In Rome.
Sant’Andrea Della Valle
Steps away from Campo de’ Fiori is the church of Sant’Andrea Della Valle. This 17th-century Baroque building features elaborate gilded interiors, and is topped with an eye-catching dome. The ceilings of the church are particularly incredible, while paintings and statues are strewn throughout. It’s an underrated church, but definitely one you should put on your itinerary for its sheer beauty. The bonus is that it’s free to enter and audio guides are also available free of charge.
Check out my post The Best Churches In Rome.
Also nearby is the Ponte Sisto. This arching bridge spans the River Tiber and connects the district of Rione Regola with Trastevere. It was built in 1473, commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV, and was built on the foundations of the much older Pons Aurelius, an ancient Roman bridge.
What makes the Ponte Sisto particularly attractive to visitors to Rome is the fact that it is a pedestrian-only bridge. And according to some historical sources, it was built from blocks taken from the Colosseum – so in a way, it’s more ancient than it looks!
Check out my post The Most Beautiful Bridges In Rome.
Theater of Pompey
The Theater of Pompey was constructed in the 1st century BC in the latter years of the Roman Republic (509-27 BC). Though there is not much to see today, it was the first permanent Theater in Rome and – according to 3D reconstructions – would have been a hugely grand and impressive structure.
You can still see the outlines of the Theater from above, and while walking along the streets of the area, too. Particularly when you walk along the curve of the Via di Grotta Pinta, and along the passage of Passetto del Biscione, which was built into the remains of the ancient structure itself.
Guided tours that go to Campo de’ Fiori
While you won’t find a guided tour of Campo de’ Fiori per se, you will find many that go to this part of the city. Most of them are food tours, but some are just sightseeing tour.
For a guided food tour that also goes to Campo de’ Fiori, click here or here.
For a night tour that goes to Campo de’ Fiori, click here.
Where Is Campo de’ Fiori?
The official address is Campo de’ Fiori, 00186 Roma. You can find it just south of the Piazza Navona, straddling the border between the Riones (districts) of Parione and Regola.
How to get to Campo De’ Fiori
The nearest major train station to the square is Roma Trastevere, which is only an eight minute walk away. This large transport hub is connected to the rest of the city by multiple bus lines, making it easy to get there wherever you’re staying. The nearest bus stop to the square is Corso Vittorio Emanuele/Navona (served by multiple buses including 46, 62, 64 and 916), while the nearest tram stop is Arenula/Carioli (take line A or B).
Head over to my post How To Use Rome’s Public Transport.