The Spanish steps in Rome attract tourists from all over the world having been the backdrop to notorious films, important events and fashion shows.
Its Italian name is “Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti” and composed of 12 ramps and 135 travertine steps, it is considered the widest and longest staircase of Europe, welcoming millions of tourists and Romans who visit at all times of the day.
Its central position in the city of Rome allows it to be an inevitable stop for everyone walking through the narrow and charming streets leading to a breath-taking panorama where modern life and ancient history converge in one location connecting Piazza di Spagna to the gothic Trinità dei Monti church. ù
The steps were commissioned by a French diplomat named Étienne Gueffier and constructed between 1723 and 1725 by Italian architects Francesco de Sanctis and Alessandro Specchi. The construction of the church was commissioned by King Louis XII and financed with French funds. Considering the French influence behind the construction of this monument, why are they called Spanish steps? It is only because the Spanish Embassy moved onto the square in the 17th century, creating a religious and tangible connection from Piazza di Spagna to the church and ultimately inheriting the name.
Here is what you can expect to see when you visit:
At the centre of the square facing the staircase is the “Barcaccia”, which means “ugly boat” and it is one of the most beautiful Baroque fountains in Rome. Constructed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his father in 1627 on behalf of Pope Urban VIII, the fountain takes its name from the characteristic sinking barge shape. The work was inspired by the flood that
caused the overflow of the Tiber River in 1598, which pushed the boats right in the place where the fountain is now. In fact, it was ingeniously designed below the road level as if it were semi-submerged.
On the right of the steps is the Casina Rossa (little red house), where the English poet John Keats lived and died in 1821. Since the beginning of the 20th century, it has housed the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, whose library has one of the most complete collections of works of English romanticism.
Once you climb the famous steps and enter the church make sure to look up, as in the internal chapels, the frescoes are the work of Daniele di Volterra, the same artist called by Pope Pius IV to cover the nakedness of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.
Walking out of the church and therefore on top of the staircase, the Sallustian obelisk looks over one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the Eternal city. It is named after the Roman historian Sallust as it was once erected in his gardens, designed to imitate the famous Egyptian monoliths with inscriptions and hieroglyphics. The Spanish steps represent figuratively and metaphorically the close relationship between the Sacred and the Eternal city, shown through the elevation and vastness of the monument.
The longest and widest steps in Europe are also an important landmark in Rome as they host events and are home to Italian traditions.
Since 1951, the arrival of spring is celebrated on this staircase with a floral tribute that adorns its steps with azaleas, which is the most representative flower of the Baroque art. This event is unique every year as the exhibition is enriched with new plants and new varieties.
In Piazza Mignanelli, a few meters away from the Spanish Steps, stands the column dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, inaugurated on December 8, 1857. For this reason, on December 8 of each year the Pope and the whole city pay homage to the Virgin Mary, adorning the fountain with beautiful flowers.
Between 1990 and 2000, the Spanish steps hosted the most exciting and influential fashion shows in which top models such as Naomi Campbell, Claudia Shiffer and Carla Bruni participated. These special events under the stars were broadcasted on TV, so that even those who were not in Rome could dream while looking at the spectacular dresses and the beauty of the proud models.
Furthermore, the image and portrayal of the Spanish steps for fashion brands is so important that it led many companies such as Bulgari to finance a restoration plan of 1.5 million euros to maintain its grandeur in 2016.
From an artistic and cultural point of view, Piazza di Spagna never ceases to excite both tourists and Romans, however if you are a lover of shopping or want to indulge in even a few hours of it, do not worry because in front of the steps is the prestigious via Condotti, which starts from the square and continues to Largo Goldoni. Via Condotti takes its name from the pipes that led the water to the Agrippa’s hot springs, near the Pantheon. Here you will find the shops of Italian high fashion, such as the ateliers of Gucci, Armani, Versace and many more.
Even though the Spanish steps were also considered as a place to rest from the long walks through the city of Rome, new regulations set in 2019 make it illegal to sit on the steps, ultimately preserving the monument.
The fines for people that sit, lay down, or dirty the steps go up to 400 euros, with municipal police officers guarding the staircase to prevent anyone from violating the regulation. However, tourists all over the world and Romans still fill up the square and the staircase as it represents a meeting point and reflects parts of the history of Rome.
In fact, the long staircase is an expression of a monumentality that characterizes the Eternal essence of Rome and that is absolutely worth the visit to fully grasp its grandeur.
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All You Need to Know About the Spanish Steps
Spanish Steps, Piazza di Spagna, Roma, RM, Italia