Piazza di Spagna is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful squares in the world, a masterpiece created over 150 years.
The Sistino urban plan, designed by Domenico Fontana in 1585 on behalf of Pope Sixtus V, had been planned around the Trident, that is, the three streets that start from Piazza del Popolo.
Via del Babbuino, one of these three streets, arrived at the Spanish Steps so called because of the presence of the Embassy of that country. At the top of the grassy slope that overlooked the square in those years, the Church of Trinità de Monti was built, designed by Giacomo della Porta and with the contribution of the King of France.
The aqueduct of Acqua Vergine arrived at the square along Via Condotti (from which it takes its name), and in 1620 Gian Lorenzo Bernini, with his father Pietro, built the beautiful Barcaccia Fountain at the meeting of the two triangles that make up the square.
Three hundred years ago the two places were finally joined by the splendid Spanish Steps. The history behind it is not well known and was symptomatic of habits that have been repeated for centuries.
Instead of the staircase there was a grassy slope belonging to the friars who ran the Trinity Church, a slope that separated the square from the church. It had long been intended to replace the path with a staircase.
In 1717 the friars decided to do it and got the go-ahead from Pope Clement XI Albani, but a dispute arose to decide who was responsible for the project and the costs. Various projects were proposed and the best was certainly that of Francesco De Sanctis, a little known 38-year-old Roman architect.
But in 1721 the pope, already old and sick, died and work stopped until 1723, when the new pope Innocent XIII of the Counts of Poli started the work.
Before the start, the project was sent to the King of France Louis XV for approval, as France had undertaken to pay part of the costs as sponsor of the work.
In fact, one of the many wars between France and Spain had ended and the staircase was a symbol of peace because it linked Trinità de Monti, a church linked to France, with the square where the Spanish Embassy was.
From 1723 to 1726, De Sanctis completed the work and also designed the side buildings, creating a great Rococo masterpiece.
The story does not end here because two years later, due to water infiltrations, some walls collapsed and the ungrateful monks sued the good architect, who, bitterly, thus ended his career.
On the Pincio hill on the sides of the Church of Trinità de Monti there are some buildings rich in art and history.
On one side there is the sixteenth-century Villa Medici, home of the French Academy. Villa Medici has a very large park which is bordered by the Aurelian Walls, overlooking Via del Muro Torto. It is owned by France, having been purchased by Napoleon in 1803.
On the other side of the church there is the Palazzetto Zuccari. The Zuccari brothers were painters from a town near Urbino. The greatest Thaddeus came to Rome in 1543, his brother Federico joined him in 1555, when he was just 11 years old.
In 1555 Taddeo Zuccari was already known, he had successfully decorated Villa Giulia, the villa outside Porta Flaminia of Pope Julius III. Cardinal Farnese entrusted them with the task of frescoing his Caprarola palace, starting in 1562.
Their inspiration was above all the other great Urbino, Raffaello, who died at 20. And Taddeo his teacher also died at 37 years, and was buried next to him in the Pantheon in 1566.
Federico continued to make many paintings, until Philip II called him to Madrid where he was court painter from 1585 to 1588.
Back in Rome, seeing that Della Porta was fixing Trinità de Monti and Sixtus V had finished the water supply, he thought it smart to buy the land where a few years later the construction of the Palazzetto Zuccari began.
This building, characterized by the sculptures of the monsters on the door and on the windows, was his home until 1609 and then had various owners until 1910 when it was purchased by Enrichetta Hertz.
It is now owned by Germany and houses the 160,000 volumes of the Hertziana Library.
From 1702 it was the home of Maria Casimira Queen of Poland, a cultured but intriguing and ambitious woman who had already been in Rome since 1699.
The queen, who was responsible for the design of the balcony portico, built by Filippo Juvarra in 1711, had created an important cultural centre here, but she had to flee in 1714 to France to be protected by Louis XIV to avoid her creditors.
In this building D’Annunzio set his novel “Il piacere”.