Piazza Barberini, as the name says, is deeply connected to the Barberini family. A family that will change forever the appearence of this area.
Piazza Barberini gets its name from the powerful noble Barberini family, but before they transformed the square into an addition to their palace, this place was named “piazza Grimana” from Cardinal Grimani, who had a vineyard with a small house at the corner of this square, right where Via Veneto begins.
Ground level of Piazza Barberini is nowadays the result of many earth fillings that took places along centuries to fill up what used to be a deep valley between the Pincio Hill and the Quirinale hill.
This area was populated since the first centuries of the roman empire because it was considered very healthy and mosquitoes-free, but it will be deeply urbanized only in 1600 with the Barberini family. They begun the transformations of this area building an elm bordered road leading to the cappuccini monks monastery built by Cardinal Antonio, the brother of Pope Urbano VIII Barberini. They even commissioned the bees fountain and the merman fountain but above all they begun the construction of their wonderful family palace, Palazzo Barberini.
Despite all these remarkable additions to Piazza Barberini, this area remains rather suburban and countryside-like until half of the 1800, when its appearance will be deeply transformed with the opening of via Veneto and then via Regina Elena (nowadays called via Barberini) in 1926, connecting Termini central station with the city center. Because of this road, the Barberini Theater, built by architect Pietro da Cortona, was completely demolished, togheter with a full block of charming buildings from the 1600.
Since 1645 the wonderful merman fountain pours its clangorous water gushes right in the heart of Piazza Barberini. This wonderful fountain was built by Gian Lorenzo Bernini to celebrate the anniversary of the election of Pope Urban VIII Barberini, event that happened 20 years before the fountain was completed. The fountain, being a celebrative monument, gave immediately a strong scenic sense to the whole square, becoming a beacon for people coming from the city center.
The merman fountain is a wonderful artwork mixing allegoric decorations and natural elements: from a shallow basin four big dolphins with the barberini bees (the bees are the family crest of the Barberini family) use their tails to lift up a big seashell above which there is a crouching merman. The merman, blowing in the trumpet, creates a tall water gush towards the sky.
This artwork is deeply inspired to Ovid’s metamorphosis 1st book, according to which before the rebirth of mankind the world will have 4 ages in which calm will be brought back to the world by the gods. The merman Tritone, blowing the trumpet, will fill with sound the surrounding lands, calling back the world to order and peace.
Bernini took inspiration from this story and created a similar strong mythological figure to be the herald of the new golden age promoted by pope Urban VIII Barberini.
Leaving the Merman fountain and Piazza Barberini behind, and going up along via delle Quattro Fontane we quickly reach the big gates of Palazzo Barberini’s entrance.
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