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Campo de' Fiori in Rome: History and Complete Cultural Guide

Updated: Jan 25



View of Campo de' Fiori


Walking in Rome has often been compared to visiting an open-air museum: each street and square has a long history and almost everything you encounter was built on the ruins of ancient Rome, where Emperors and citizens used to give thanks to their gods, gather, execute, live.


This is also true for Campo de' Fiori, a beautiful and rather peculiar piazza (square) in the heart of Rome. It is notoriously famed for the executions that took place there, including that of philosopher Giordano Bruno, now remembered with a statue in his name.


If in Piazza Navona, or on your way to Palazzo Farnese, Castel Sant'Angelo or the Vatican City, make sure not to miss it. Here you will find a complete guide, with notions of the history of this square, important facts to know, and many tools to fully enjoy your visit!


 

In this article:


Campo de' Fiori: An Overview
Campo de' Fiori: What To Know
Campo de' Fiori: What is Around

 

Campo de' Fiori: An Overview



WHAT IS CAMPO DE' FIORI


Campo de' Fiori, which name literally means flowers meadow in Italian, is a piazza, a square in downtown Rome, part of a district called Parione.


Brought to light (and life) in the mid-15th century, Campo de' Fiori is renowned for its market, for being a hyped nightlife destination, and for its form, which is quite common across Italy but rather rare in Rome: since the entire historical center of the Italian capital roughly corresponds to the perimeter of ancient Rome, later constructions and urban landscape are the result of a constant adaptation to being a living archaeological site while having to keep up with the luxury requirements of the lavish Papal court.


Therefore, Campo de' Fiori, with the typical embracing shape of market or cathedral Italian squares, represents an uncommon spot in Rome where the Baroque fascination of the decadent era of Papal power (17th-19th century) is feeble and Roman vestiges are just slightly out of sight.


As we will see, Campo de' Fiori was actually designed over time and every step toward our days had an important historical value. This square is also, quite surprisingly for the Pope's city, the only monumental piazza of Rome without a church.


In Campo de' Fiori visitors' attention is captured by the bursting market during the day and the lively nightlife after sunset, but there is much more to check. Here is an overview of the main sights in this guide:




WHERE IS CAMPO DE' FIORI AND HOW TO REACH IT


Map of Campo de Fiori, Rome

Campo de' Fiori is a square in the historical center of Rome and missing it would be hard even if strolling through the city with no specific schedule or tour to follow.


In case you are wondering how to reach the square from the main attractions in Rome, Campo de Fiori can be found here on Google Maps, and I also left you some suggestions that can be easily walked through in less than 30 minutes, encountering infinite sights on your way. Buses and metro in Rome are extremely busy and not always efficient, so this is your chance to experience the city on foot!


  • Piazza Navona: 300m / 984ft - 4 min on foot

  • Area Sacra of Largo Argentina: 450m / 1476ft - 6 min on foot

  • Pantheon: 700m / 2296ft - 7 min on foot

  • Castel Sant'Angelo: 1km / 0,62mi - 12 min on foot

  • San Pietro Basilica (Vatican City): 1,5km / 0,93mi - 19 min on foot

  • Piazza di Spagna: 1,7km / 1,05mi - 22 min on foot

  • Piazza del Popolo: 1,8km / 1,11mi - 23 min on foot

  • Colosseo: 2km / 1,24mi - 25 min on foot


Of course, there are other ways to access Campo de' Fiori:


  • Metro: due to its position, Campo de' Fiori does not have any metro station nearby. However, you could get off at Piazza di Spagna (Stop: Spagna, Metro A) or Colosseo, (Stop: Colosseo, Metro B) then walk for 20/25 minutes as per above.

  • Bus: You can either opt for buses going on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II (Stop: Navona, Lines 46, 62, 64, 916 and more), or on Lungotevere dei Tebaldi (Stop: Uroboro, Lines 23, 280)


Campo de Fiori



Campo de' Fiori: What To Know



THE RIONE PARIONE


The symbol of Parione district is the griffin and its name likely comes from the Latin word paries, meaning wall or home - it refers to an ancient wall, today disappeared.


In ancient Rome this area used to be central, hosting the Domitian Stadium and Pompey's Theater among others, but Campo de' Fiori and its immediate surroundings might have looked quite desolate, probably the place where one could find stables for racing teams at the nearby Circus Maximus.


During the 13th century, the rione became increasingly densely populated and its importance grew, reaching a new peak when Campo de' Fiori was turned into a lively square and became a mandatory transit point for those visiting the Popes. By the 16th century, Parione had fully changed its appearance, with several streets opened over the decades and new constructions completed.


A distinctively medieval creation, the rione gradually lost its medieval buildings during the renovations but urban forms and structures were retained, as we can see from Campo de' Fiori itself. Indeed, narrow streets still characterize Parione, originally a way to avoid the steaming hot Roman summers.


Some further embellishment came in the 17th century, then the district remained quiet until the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy and the annexation of Rome in 1870 gave way to a brand-new road system: this is when the large Corso Vittorio Emanuele II was opened up,


Even though Campo de' Fiori played a huge part in the rione's fortune, Piazza Navona has been considered its core since at least the 16th century. However, the whole area rotated around the Papal guests and their needs: since they were to pass from the rione and often stayed in one of the pompous palaces nearby, inns and taverns for their entourages popped up, and trades of different kinds were encouraged (the names of today's streets are a tangible proof of this).


Starting from Campo de' Fiori, Parione can be explored without a precise direction, appreciating its shadowy streets and keeping your noses up to enjoy every view - a new sight awaits at every corner but, just in case:




HISTORY OF CAMPO DE' FIORI


Campo de' Fiori did not know much fortune until the end of the Middle Ages.


Its position guaranteed it was a full-fledged part of ancient Roma, but not necessarily a prominent one. Its proximity to the Tiber made it an easy target for floods and inundations, and therefore building there was avoided since remote times. In fact, while important mainstays of ancient Roman civic life grew a short distance, Campo de' Fiori was likely used to host stables or as a backup space for nearby sites. Its own name, Campo de' Fiori (flowers meadow) betrays a long history of being a huge flowery field in the middle of the capital.


Before the great renovations that took place in the whole rione during the 15th century, Campo de' Fiori gave the name to an important, close by road axis formerly known as Via Florea (then Via Mercatoria). While the square itself still had no relevance whatsoever, the surroundings saw their strategic importance grow over time, until the Orsini Family (one of the longest-standing in Rome and playing a primary role in the Papacy game) bought several assets in the south-eastern area of the piazza to keep themselves close to Via Florea.


The Orsini properties took the form of a fortified residence (now no more), and the branch of the family living here became known as De Campofiori or De Campo. They will later sell their possessions, but their name will be linked to the piazza for a long time.


1456 is the year of change for Campo de' Fiori: Pope Callixtus III (1455-1458), well convinced that this strategic area needed a rise in its standards, eventually paved Campo de' Fiori, opening up a season of renovations that will result in the construction of magnificent palaces such as Palazzo Farnese and Palazzo della Cancelleria, both a short walking distance from Campo de' Fiori.


Moreover and most important, although Campo de' Fiori was never formally designed, Papal plans for the area made Campo de' Fiori a mandatory passage for all prominent figures seeking their way to the Papal residence to meet the Holy Father. The newly-born square soon adjusted to the novelties and inns, taverns and shops made their appearance, while a horse market was quickly established on-site, running on Mondays and Saturdays.


Its airy shape, the absence of churches, the prominent location and its acquired role in the city life made Campo de' Fiori the perfect place where to perform public tortures or, in the worst cases, executions. People were not only given capital punishment here, but also tormented with the rope (hanged by the arms to cause shoulder dislocation). This tragic chapter of the piazza's history began in the 16th century, peaked in 1600 with the notorious execution of Giordano Bruno and lasted until 1798.


Campo de' Fiori, a place naturally devoted to exchange and chattering, saw the major Papal Bulls (edicts, named this way after the bolla, a large seal placed upon them to officialize) hung up here so that the majority of the population could be reached. The last one goes back to 1860 and attacked the patriots who were unifying Italy, posing a huge threat to Papal power.


Despite the indignation, Rome was added to the Kingdom of Italy in 1870 and during the late 19th century Campo de' Fiori was eventually turned into what we still see today: in 1889 the new political spirits - democratic and often even republican - did not spare the Papacy their dissent, attacking it on several fronts, including its past of violence towards so-called heretics and out-of-the-Catholic-box thinkers of the previous centuries. This included a re-evaluation of figures such as Giordano Bruno, to whom a statue was symbolically dedicated and placed on the spot of its execution in 1889. To make space for it, the iconic Terrina fountain was removed, later substituted with the copy in place today.


Since 1869 and in memory of the old horse market, Campo de' Fiori hosts a lively flower and vegetable market and, even though inns and taverns have been replaced by stores and restaurants, it remains a symbol of the day- and night-life of Roma.


The Statue of Giordano Bruno, the philosopher burned at the stake in Campo de' Fiori
The Statue of Giordano Bruno, the philosopher burned at the stake in Campo de' Fiori


GIORDANO BRUNO AND HIS EXECUTION


Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) was born in Nola (Naples) and was initially known as Filippo, a name that he would later change to Giordano when he entered a Dominican convent to become a friar at the age of 17.


An out-of-line voice in a world that was tightening its grip to defend itself from changes, Giordano exploited his conventual experience to read, learn and expand his knowledge - ideas would soon begin to emerge and the young Giordano would take his first steps as a philosopher and metaphysician dressed as a friar.


Just to give you some context, since ca. 1545, Papal Rome was in the middle of one of its most notorious eras, the Controriforma. The Controriforma (Counter-Reformation), a response to the rise of Protestantism, made the Catholic Church fear any thinker, philosopher, writer, or artist that could pose a threat to its power and influence. Giordano Bruno, with the controversial ideas he would develop, was definitely one of them, and for that he was punished in the end.


In fact, Bruno got soon convinced that the then-established dogmas - mostly religious - to define the world, its creation and its functioning were simply incomplete and often wrong. Influenced by the rise of science as a medium to understand all things and by ancient and classical knowledge, the thinker came up with the idea that the universe must be infinite with no center and with an omnipresent God. This automatically rejected the concept of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit to explain the presence of God in our life and, combined with other cosmological theories, the allure of magic found in his works and his sharp personality, put his life at risk anywhere he went.


Indeed, before meeting death at the stake in Campo de' Fiori, Giordano Bruno wandered around Italy and Europe for years (he lived in France, Switzerland, England), always seeking new places and inspiration to evolve his theories and but also escaping from some new accusation. He would ruthlessly convert from one religion to another (Catholicism, Protestantism, Anglicanism, etc) to access the offices and opportunities he desired but he would also always stay true to his assumptions, refusing to abjure them even when his life was seriously endangered.


After years of endless peregrinations, he was eventually arrested in Venice (1591) after being reported by a former benefactor. From then on, he would have to endure an almost 10-year process that at times seemed to even lead to freedom. Unfortunately, the Catholic church's position was too fragile at the time and someone who professed ideas like Giordano's could not be spared without a total abnegation, which, as said, Bruno refused.


He met his fate on February 17, 1600 in Campo de' Fiori, burned naked at the stake. It would take centuries and a drastically different situation for his life and work to be revived and re-evaluated: in the late-1800s, after the unification of Italy and the annexation of Rome, the Papal power reached its bleakest point and thinkers from around the world began to openly question the Catholic church's choices and judgment of the past.


THE STATUE AND THE FOUNTAIN



Giordano Bruno in Campo de' Fiori
Giordano Bruno in Campo de' Fiori | Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Statue of Giordano Bruno

As we have seen, on 17 February 1600 Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake here in Campo de' Fiori, one of the many executions to be performed in the piazza but surely the most striking for both the popularity of the philosopher and the later re-evaluation of his life and significance.


The late 1800s was a time of high ideals and freedom of thought was surely among the most popular: Giordano Bruno easily became a symbol, a martyr of the Papal tyranny that did not allow free thinking. In 1889 time was ripe already and a statue of Giordano Bruno, to stand right where he was executed, was commissioned to Ettore Ferrari and placed in the piazza on June 9.

Inscription in Campo de Fiori

The statue bears an inscription: "A Bruno, il secolo da lui divinato qui dove il rogo arse" (To Bruno, the century that he foresaw erected this here, where the pyre burnt). It refers to the brighter and science-driven times of the 19th century, when his ideas would have been greeted with enthusiasm and his life spared.


The statue, facing the Vatican in defiance, shows a cloaked Giordano Bruno, eternally staring at his executors and eventually avenged (the 19th century is known to have been rather sentimental).


The statue's granite base reports some scenes of Bruno's life and the effigies of other victims of Papal censorship: Jan Huss, John Wycliff, Michael Servetus, Aonio Paleario, Giulio Cesare Vanini, Pietro Ramo, Tommaso Campanella and Paolo Sarpi.


Most recently (2011), a plaque was added to commemorate the persecution of Jews and remember the unfortunate 9 September 1553 event of the Talmud fire, when the sacred text of the Jews was burned by order of the Pope.


Fontana della Terrina, the original in Piazza della Chiesa Nuova
Fontana della Terrina, the original in Piazza della Chiesa Nuova | Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The Terrina Fountain

Not far from Giordano Bruno statue, on the northern side of Campo de' Fiori, is the Terrina fountain, so-called for its resemblance to a tureen.


The fountain we see today is not the original Terrina, which you can find in Piazza della Chiesa Nuova (6 min on foot), but its story is all about Campo de' Fiori.


First built in 1590 by architect and sculptor Giacomo della Porta, the Terrina was not initially known by this name and its construction was part of a larger plan to add fountains in Roman squares. However, it soon became the protagonist of the square's life and used as a washing basin by the marketers selling fruits and vegetables in the Parione district. This practice was so poorly tolerated by the Popes that they even released a Papal edict to threaten the transgressors with corporal punishments.


Needless to say, the Romans did not seem to care much, and in 1622 the Terrina was closed with a travertine lid (now a veritable tureen!), later not included in the copy.


In 1889, when the placing of Bruno statue was incumbent, the Terrina had to be removed to free space. It remained in a deposit for 3 decades, then was settled in Piazza della Chiesa Nuova, where it still lies. However, the locals did not easily forget the role it played for Campo de' Fiori and soon asked for its return: on the occasion of restorations, a copy was made and placed in loco. The lid, another symbol of the Papal attempts to control the citizens, was omitted.



WHAT TO SEE IN AND AROUND CAMPO DE' FIORI



Market in Campo de' Fiori
Market in Campo de' Fiori | Image Source: Unsplash
The Market

The market at Campo de' Fiori is considered one of the oldest (if not the oldest) in Rome.


Firstly established in 1869 in the square, which had its past of hosting horse-selling and food stands, the market here mostly presents sellers of flowers, fruit and vegetables, but also fish and meat.


The market has always been associated with the spread of news and rumours, making the square a major center in Roman life. The market has also often inspired directors and writers for movies and literature.


A lively, colorful and voice-bursting corner of Roma, Campo de' Fiori market can be found Mon-Sat from 7AM to 2PM. On Sundays you may find some stalls, but not the full market.


Do not get fooled by the ancient history of this square and its market: today, among stalls that sell all kinds of good food, there are unfortunately many others selling so-called "local specialities and Italian delicacies" - these are mostly tourist scams that you may find all around Rome and have nothing to do with authenticity.


Taverna della Vacca, the ancient entrance is still visible, but now walled up
Taverna della Vacca, the ancient entrance is still visible, but now walled up | Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Vicolo del Gallo and Taverna della Vacca

On the north side of Campo de' Fiori, at the crossroads of Vicolo del Gallo and via dei Cappellari is the Taverna del Gallo or, as it is better known, Taverna della Vacca (at number 13 of Vicolo del Gallo, on the left if coming from the piazza).


Unpretending and rather hidden out of the main sight, this late medieval building had crossed paths with some of the most popular and intriguing figures of Renaissance Rome, at least in the collective imaginary. Indeed, it was acquired by Vannozza Cattanei (1442-1518), a veritable entrepreneur who owned many businesses in Rome and is mainly known for having been the long-term mistress of Cardinal Rodrigo Borja or Borgia, later pope under the name of Alexander VI (1492-1503). With him, she bore several children, including Cesare and Lucrezia, seen on TV series on different occasions. The whole family is renowned for their lavish, unconventional and transgressive behavior.


In the late 1400s Vannozza bought the building, which already was a tavern, and embellished it in 1514 by updating its architectural style. She left it to religious institutions in her testament in 1517.


Despite this being a brief chapter, the tavern is still mostly remembered for its link to Vannozza and her vicissitudes. The building still bears her escutcheon on Vicolo del Gallo (at the top of the original entrance, now walled up) with the coat of arms of the Cattanei family and those of her husband and her lover.


Today the building is a private property.


The Palazzo's façade and Bramante courtyard


Palazzo della Cancelleria

Again on the north side of Campo de' Fiori, but opposite to Vicolo del Gallo is Piazza della Cancelleria, with its superb palace, the Palazzo della Cancelleria.


Built in the very late 1400s, it is considered one of the best examples of early Renaissance style in Rome and the natural consequence of that gradual embellishment that involved Campo de' Fiori and the rione since mid-century.


The palace is also a symbol of a much-contested practice of the Papacy, nepotism. In fact, the commissioner of its construction was Cardinal Raffaele Riario, the unprejudiced nephew of Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484).


Raffaele, a member of the Riario della Rovere family, ultra-potent in Rome at the time, adorned the Palazzo with the effigy of a wild rose, the symbol of his family, and financed it with a single gambling win against some influent figures in the city. This ignited discontent and the palace was soon seized by the next Pope. It later became the seat of the Papacy's administrative office and its high court, the Sacra Rota. As of today, it still benefits from extra-territorial status, an actual part of the Vatican State in Italian territory (many other examples can be found across Rome).


Its façade is noble and made of travertine coming from Pompey's Theater (almost everything in Rome was built with re-used material coming from ancient Roman buildings). The balcony on Via del Pellegrino shows the escutcheon of Sixtus IX, Cardinal Riario's uncle and benefactor. The "Corte Imperiale" inscription was added during the short-lived Napoleonic invasion of Rome.


The interior is unfortunately often closed, which is a shame since it contains a cycle of frescoes by Giorgio Vasari (renowned art historian and painter to whom we own much of the insights we have of medieval and early Renaissance artists), a 1st century BCE Roman tomb (Consul Aulus Hirtius, Julius Caesar companion) and a courtyard longly attributed to Donato Bramante (polyhedric artist and one of the main Renaissance exponents). It incorporated part of the old church of St. Lorenzo in Damaso, which is accessible next door.


The courtyard can still be glanced at during office hours and it is possible to book a tour with rather restrictive rules:


  • Open on Saturdays (9AM-12PM) and Tuesday afternoons

  • Tours available only for groups (no less than 7 pp) - single visitors should call to schedule a time slot - call at least 1 month before your visit

  • Prices range from 4 to 7€

  • More information can be found here


Palazzo Pio Orsini Righetti as seen from Campo de' Fiori
Palazzo Pio Orsini Righetti as seen from Campo de' Fiori | Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Palazzo Pio Orsini Righetti

If we move toward the southern side of Campo de' Fiori and keep in mind that this area had been occupied by the Orsini family during the Middle Ages (so when the square was still a meadow), we won't be surprised to notice a palace, which we will view from a side, the façade facing the nearby Piazza del Biscione.


This palace, called Palazzo Pio Orsini Righetti, is a descendant of the fortified residence built by the Orsini family during the 12th/13th century, itself made of stones coming from the ancient Pompey's Theater (1st century BCE). As we saw, the Orsini bought assets on the southern part of the meadow that Campo de' Fiori was at the time in order to monitor the strategic Via Florea.


The Orsini now gone, in ca. 1450 the new owner, Cardinal Francesco Coldumer, incorporated part of the medieval residence and built an early Renaissance-style palace. This second structure was later sold (1651) to the Pio di Savoia family, who collected paintings and exhibited them here for their guests. It was on this occasion that the façade was redesigned and given a rather Baroque fascination by architect Camillo Arcucci (17th-century Roman architect who worked in the footsteps of Borromini)


We mentioned the Orsini and the Pio, so now it is time for that Righetti in the Palazzo's name. Pietro Righetti was a banker who bought the Palazzo in the 1800s and financed several excavations that brought to light vestiges of the Pompey's Theater, statues and other Roman finds.


Now closed to the public, the palace has been used as an orphanage and a public school.



 

Campo de' Fiori: What Is Around



EXPLORING THE RIONE PARIONE


The Rione Parione is a rather small conglomerate of streets and buildings, so visiting it on foot would not take you more than a couple of hours. However, this is one of the most ancient areas of Rome, meaning that every single step would bring you some new discoveries!


It is definitely recommended to spend at least half a day here and check out a few attractions:


  • Piazza Navona: one of the most famed and majestic squares in Rome, its form makes it immediately clear that this place used to be an ancient Roman stadium (Domitian Stadium). Today, it is a symbol of Baroque architecture. If there, do not miss the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the Baroque genius and mastermind, and the Chiesa di Sant'Agnese in Agone, partially a Borromini's work.

  • Stadio di Domiziano: in Via di Tor Sanguigna, just behind the corner from Piazza Navona, you may access the ruins of the Domitian Stadium and basically visit the undergrounds of Piazza Navona. Some local expert guides have highly discouraged me from visiting the ruins, as they are considered tourist scams!

  • Arco degli Acetari: a few step distance from Campo de' Fiori, on Via del Pellegrino, is a medieval courtyard that has retained its original forms intact. It is accessible from street number 19.

  • Piazza di Pasquino: this square takes its name from the Hellenistic sculpture (a fragment) set against Palazzo Braschi, home to the Museo di Roma. This statue has been long used by the Romans to set out anonymous satires and mockeries against the Popes. In Piazza di Pasquino, check out the Chiesa della Natività as well.

  • Piazza della Chiesa Nuova: we have mentioned it before as the current host of the original version of the Terrina fountain. Here you can also visit the beautiful Baroque Chiesa di Santa Maria in Vallicella (Chiesa Nuova) and the Biblioteca Vallicelliana.

  • Museo Giovanni Barracco: hosted in the Farnesina ai Baullari Palace, the museum is a collection of antique sculptures, ranging from ancient Egyptian to medieval works.





 

References:
  • Anna Foa, Giordano Bruno, Il Mulino, 1998.

  • Hilary Gatti, Giordano Bruno. Philosopher of the Renaissance, Routledge, 2002.

  • Mario Sanfilippo, La grande guida dei rioni di Roma, Newton & Compton, 2007.

  • Massimo Bucciantini, Campo de' Fiori, Einaudi, 2011.

  • Mauro Lucentini, The Rome Guide: Step by Step Through History's Greatest City, Interlink Pub Group, 2011.

  • William Boulting, Giordano Bruno, His Life, Thought, and Martyrdom, Routledge, 1914.

  • https://www.turismoroma.it/it/luoghi/campo-de%E2%80%99-fiori-e-piazza-farnese


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