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Campo de’ Fiori: the Roman square symbolizing freedom of thought

In the area surrounding Piazza Navona, Piazza Farnese, and streets named after ancient crafts, lies the picturesque Campo de’ Fiori. Romans never use the term “Piazza” for it. Interestingly, it’s the only major square in the center without churches.

Campo de’ Fiori’s history dates back to ancient Rome when it was marshy and unhealthy. Only in the Middle Ages, with the city’s expansion, did it begin to be reclaimed and urbanized.

Campo de’ Fiori is among Rome’s most iconic squares, boasting a dramatic and romantic history to be told

In the 15th century, Campo de’ Fiori emerged as a vital commercial and cultural hub, hosting markets, workshops, and taverns. However, in the 1600s, it witnessed tragic events.

On February 17, 1600, Giordano Bruno, a Campanian philosopher and theologian, was burnt alive here for heresy by the Catholic Church. His execution was a profoundly impactful event, solidifying the square’s reputation as a site of contrasts and freedom of thought, where other capital punishments took place.

An evocative statue still characterizes the atmosphere of Campo de’ Fiori.

In the subsequent years, the square remained a significant center of cultural and social activity. Theatrical performances, concerts, and debates took place here. Finally, in 1869, the daily market was inaugurated, which still enlivens the square every day.

Returning to the famous heretic, the commemorative monument was unveiled in 1889, sparking immediate controversy with the Catholic Church. Over time, the site became a venue for political rallies, sometimes leading to clashes with law enforcement.

Today, Campo de’ Fiori is a vibrant square bustling with the daily market, like the friendly Mustafà, creating a cheerful daily chaos, while at night, it buzzes with nightlife. Leisure activities abound in the numerous bars and clubs, mainly frequented by young people. Though it attracts large groups of tourists and foreign couples seeking Roman authenticity, locals also hold affection for the square.

Noteworthy is the 1943 film “Campo de’ Fiori” by Mario Bonnard, starring Aldo Fabrizi and Anna Magnani. In one memorable dialogue, when Magnani’s character says, “She’s gone, the lady…”, Fabrizi’s character retorts, “You, instead, are always here, you’re worse than Giordano Bruno!”

Taking a glance at the architecture and urban planning of the area

Over the centuries, Campo de’ Fiori has seen the construction of palaces belonging to noble families, shaping both its architecture and social-economic life. One notable example is Palazzo Orsini Pio Righetti, commonly known as Palazzo Pio. Built around 1450 by Cardinal Condulmer, it incorporated a medieval building of the noble family. The palace returned to Orsini ownership at the end of the 15th century.

Before being relocated to accommodate the statue of Giordano Bruno, the center of the square was adorned with the Fountain of the Terrina by Giacomo Della Porta. Named for its resemblance to a soup tureen (hence the alternate name “Fontana della Zuppiera”), both in shape and lid, added to prevent merchants from using it as a cooler for their fruits and vegetables. Today, the fountain stands in front of the nearby Chiesa Nuova in the square of the same name.

The evocative surroundings of Campo de’ Fiori, rich in history, art, culture, and tradition

Even the immediate surroundings offer picturesque glimpses evoking ancient Rome, notably the courtyard bordered by the Arch of the Vinegar Sellers where time seems to have stopped centuries ago. The vinegar sellers, or “acetari”, were itinerant vendors of precious Acqua Acetosa when running water didn’t exist in homes.

This area hosted numerous trades, along with their artisan workshops, which have lent their names to the streets nearby. For instance: Via dei Baullari (trunk and suitcase makers), Largo dei Librari, Via dei Giubbonari, Via dei Cappellari, and others.

One cannot speak of this place without mentioning the Biscione Alleyway, a covered pedestrian passage connecting Via di Grottapinta with Piazza del Biscione. In ancient Rome, it served as an exit passage from the cavea of the Theater of Pompey.

Named “Biscione” after the adjacent square due to its resemblance to the Orsini family’s coat of arms, featuring a snake. However, it’s also known as the Grottapinta Arch, as in ancient times, any dark recess adorned with frescoes was called a “grotta”.

In 2024, Antonello Venditti’s song “Campo de’ Fiori” celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, serving as a love anthem to the square: “Campo de’ Fiori, I no longer run… And I’m no longer afraid of freedom.”

With the Blog of Rome and Latium Region Around Rome guides you to discover places and territories for the pleasure of satisfying curiosity and putting culture at the service of people and businesses.

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Edited by il NETWORK | text Andrea Franchini | photo  Ezio Bocci

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