The Summer Flooding of Piazza Navona
When it's hot, just flood it all.
Piazza Navona, one of Rome’s most renowned public spaces, has long been cherished for its rich history, stunning architecture, and vibrant atmosphere. It’s certainly one of my absolute favorite places. Sitting on the piazza, enjoying a spritz, listening to the buskers, and watching people—that constitutes a perfect time for me.
In the 1st century AD, Piazza Navona was the site of the Stadium of Domitian, a venue for athletic contests, known as agones. This is why the area kept the name agone which later evolved into navone and eventually Navona. Back then, the stadium was encircled by taverns and lupanari (ancient brothels). Later, in medieval times, it was the site of a vast market. It wasn’t until the Baroque period that the piazza started to take its present shape. Pope Innocent X commissioned the construction of the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) in the center of the piazza, designed by the legendary Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. He also moved the market to Campo dei Fiori, to clean up the area and make the view more palatable for his lover, Olimpia Maidalchini (she was married to the Pope’s brother) from Palazzo Pamphilji (which now houses the Brazilian embassy).
If you ask me, it really is one of the most gorgeous piazzas ever dreamed up. Here’s what it normally looks like.
The Flooding of Piazza Navona
Another interesting thing that occurred during the pontificate of Innocent X was the start of a unique tradition: the summer flooding of the piazza. The drains of the fountains would be blocked, allowing water to gradually fill the square, creating a temporary "Lake Navona.” It was a grand spectacle, a way for the nobility to flaunt their power, and provide a respite from the summer heat for the populace. It lasted for two centuries, from 1651 until 1867, when they raised the level of the piazza.
The process of flooding the square was quite straightforward. The water for the fountains was supplied by the Aqua Virgo, one of the ancient aqueducts of Rome. To flood the piazza, the drains of the three fountains were sealed off, allowing the water to gradually fill the square’s concave basin. This would typically occur overnight, transforming the piazza into a temporary lake by morning.
For the Romans, who were accustomed to the scorching summer heat, this event was not just a display of power or a spectacle, but also a means of relief. The shallow lake was a playground for children and a place where adults could cool off. Small boats would be brought into the square, adding to the festive atmosphere.
The practice of flooding Piazza Navona stopped in the mid-19th century due to health and safety concerns.
Wild huh? I imagine that the summer tourists there in the blistering heat right now were wishing for a Navona lake!
Down south of Rome, in Salerno, they’re flooding the streets in the annual “A Chiena di Campagna” a water festival that floods the streets. Every Saturday and Sunday from July 16-Aug 17, they throw water around in what was originally a way to clean the streets, but now, with all the heatwaves this summer, has certainly become a way to beat the heat. Click through the below to see what I mean. It looks like fun!
What’s Bringing Me Joy This Week:
Buon-a-Petiti received her million subscriber plaque on YouTube! When I subscribed she had a few hundred subscribers, but Nonna Gina, who hails from Puglia, has such a wonderful cooking channel that it’s no surprise that so many people follow her. My husband loves her because her accent reminds him so much of his grandmother.
Season 2 of Good Omens is nearly out! You could probably watch it independent of Season 1, but really, the first season is so damn good, you really should start there.
This doesn’t bring me “joy” but I find it highly useful, especially with Boston’s super whacked weather. Ventusky. It’s also good to see the movements of large storms (hurricanes, blizzards, etc.).