The Spanish Steps, Rome are one of the most famous and visited spots in the Eternal City.
Although the square (Piazza di Spagna, as it is called in Italia) had been used since Roman times, it was only during the Renaissance that it started to take the shape and splendor it has now.
The place has been used as a filming location, it has an important historical and political value and it hosts some of the most important social and religious events in the Italian Capital. Moreover, it’s filled to the brim with luxury hotels and boutiques and exclusive cafés and restaurants.
Curious to discover more about this gorgeous Roman square? Continue reading as I will unveil all its secrets.
What You Must Know About The Spanish Steps, Rome
How did the Spanish Steps get their name?
The Spanish Steps got their name thanks to their function. They were originally built to link the Roman French area to the Spanish one, the former located on the higher hill from where the SS. Trinità Church towers up, and the latter laying downhill.
The two areas, which were of vital importance for the city; they were separated by a muddy, steep road and no one could go from one side to the other without some damage to their clothes and shoes – and it was impossible to go there with a carriage.
The History of the Spanish Steps
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Rome of the Middle Ages didn’t pay much attention to the Spanish Steps area. During the 17th century, however, the place that would later become Piazza di Spagna (Rome’s Spanish Steps in English) gained the attention of some local noblemen because of the abundance of hotels in it.
Many ambassadors and other sorts of travelers used to stay in that area, until a representative from the Spanish Embassy decided to rent an apartment there. After some time, in 1620, the King of Spain himself decided to buy the whole palace and make it the permanent headquarters of the Spanish Embassy in Rome – and that building still has the same function now!
As I mentioned before, the Spanish Steps were created after these events: it was impossible, with such an important development, to keep walking up and down along a muddy road. The project for a monumental set of steps was strongly pushed and sponsored by the Vatican, which at the time was the sole ruler of Rome.
Where are the Spanish Steps?
The Spanish Steps are located in Campo Marzio, one of the most exclusive areas of Rome. Piazza Di Spagna, as they are called in Italian, is the place where all the fashion and shopping streets start (or end, depending on your perspective); where you can enjoy a coffee in some historical or fancy café and where you can take pictures of some of the greatest artworks in the Italian Capital, like the Steps or the Barcaccia Fountain.
How to get there
The Spanish Steps are centrally located and chances are you will walk by during your wanderings of Rome. However, if you want to hit them up specifically during your 3 days in Rome, here’s how to get there.
BY BUS: Lines 119, 160, 590, 61, 62, 628, 85 all stop at the “Piazza della Trinità dei Monti” station. You can easily spot the steps from there.
BY METRO: The closest metro station is Line A, “Spagna”.
If you aren’t comfortable with public transportation in Rome (sometimes it can be overwhelming!), my recommendation is to grab a taxi. It might be a bit more expensive, but it’s the easiest (and fool-proof) way to get to the Spanish Steps.
Make sure to read my post How To Use Public Transport In Rome.
What are the main attractions at the Spanish Steps, Rome?
Fontana della Barcaccia
This beautiful fountain, right at the base of the Spanish Steps in Rome, was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII in 1623 and is the product of Rome’s favorite artist, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and his father Pietro. The shape of the fountain, as the name recalls, is the one of a ship (barca): the legend says that Pietro Bernini got the inspiration from a flood that brought a ship from the Tiber River to the square where the fountain is now.
The Fontana della Barcaccia, differently from other Bernini works, is pretty low because it was built in an area where the water pressure wasn’t too strong and, had the architect chosen to use some bases or pedestals, the fountain would’ve never worked. Unfortunately, this beautiful artwork has been vandalized many times and has needed several restoration works because of that.
Make sure to check out my post The Most Famous Fountains In Rome.
Trinità dei Monti church
This church is one of the five churches that hold masses in French in Rome. This is because it was built under the request of the French King Charles VIII at the beginning of the 16th century.
The project was entrusted to Annibale Lippi and Gregorio Canonica and the first part of the Church was built, as it was fashionable back then, in Gothic style.
After the raid of Rome in 1527, the Church was completely restored and improved until Pope Sisto V consecrated it in 1585. Soon after, the need for something to link the two sides of the area became urgent, and so the building of the Spanish steps began.
Since the Trinità dei Monti is an important Roman Church, its inside is a triumph of artworks and decorations. The chapels are something worth spending time admiring: among the main paintings, the depiction of John the Baptist’s life is probably the most famous: you can find it in the Altoviti Chapel. The Orsini Chapel is filled with scenes of the Passion of the Christ; while the chapels on the left of the church mainly depict scenes from the Old and New Testament rather than the Gospels.
If you don’t want to miss anything about this stunning church, my recommendation is to book a guided tour such as this one.
Make sure not to miss my post The Prettiest Churches In Rome.
Despite its Egyptian appearance, this obelisk was built in Rome between the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, and the hieroglyphics were only engraved later (with some mistakes, too!). It was supposed to decorate the Horti Sallustiani but, after the Roman Empire’s fall, it disappeared and was only found again in 1843. After several years of transfers, discussions, and all sorts of other issues (even between Italy and France), the Obelisk was eventually put on top of the Spanish Steps by order of Pope Pius VI.
Read my post The Many Obelisks Of Rome.
Keats Shelley House
The Keats – Shelley house is located right at the feet of the Spanish steps and was the house where the famous Romantic poet, John Keats, passed away in 1821 after moving to Rome with the hopes of curing his tuberculosis.
The building has become a museum about the most important British Romantic literates and counts a collection of 8000+ books (in its library) and tons of manuscripts and memorabilia from the poets and writers of that era.
Make sure to read my post A Guide To Keats Shelley Memorial House.
Piazza di Spagna
The area that is now called Piazza di Spagna hasn’t always been this glamorous. Back in the Middle Ages, it was considered a suburban part of the city and only started to gain fame and importance with Rome’s Spanish Steps’ construction.
Nowadays, its unmistakable butterfly shape welcomes locals and visitors from every corner of the world, and its bustling ensemble of cafes, boutiques, and luxury hotels never fail to leave an everlasting impression on every tourist’s heart.
Among the many things you can see in Piazza di Spagna, you can’t miss the aforementioned Barcaccia Fountain, the Trinità dei Monti Church on top of the Spanish Steps, Keats-Shelley House, and several other museums.
Head over to my post The Prettiest Piazzas In Rome.
The Antico Caffè Greco was founded in 1760 and has always been one of the main meeting spots for intellectuals of all eras. It is now the biggest private gallery (open to the public) in the world with 300+ artworks exposed.
Its name (The Greek Coffee Shop) derives from the founder’s origins, even though his identity is unclear. Throughout time, important artists such as Charles Baudelaire, Antonio Canova, Gabriele d’Annunzio, Arthur Schopenhauer, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and many, many more have been regular customers of this coffee shop.
Interesting facts about the Spanish Steps, Rome
Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps, like everything in Rome, have a certain magical and mysterious aura, especially once the night falls and the city lamps light up the square.
But with every magical place come some rules, right?
Did you know, for instance, that you can’t sit on the Spanish Steps? Even if there’s always someone resting there, it’s technically forbidden since August 2019. And do you know what else is forbidden? You can’t dip your feet into the fountain! Don’t let the movies fool you: if you try to enter the Barcaccia Fountain, you’ll earn a hefty fine… and a long and (probably unpleasant) chat with the local police.
And, about movies, did you know that some of the most iconic scenes of several movies have been filmed here? The most famous is Roman Holidays, but I’m pretty sure that you will recognize the place from other movies too!