The most famous square of Baroque Rome stands on the site of Domitian’s stadium and the name seems to derive from a popular corruption of the term for the competitive games “in agone” which were held here. From the times of Domitian on, the place was used almost exclusively for sports events, including the famous August regatta in which the participants wore the colours of the nobles and the civic clergy. Even now the feast of the Befana (January sixth) is celebrated there with a typical market.
But the real attraction of the square is the famous Fountain of the Four Rivers by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, dated 1651, and thanks to which the artist gained the admiration and protection of the Pope then in office, Innocent X. The rivers represented in the fountain are the Danube, the Ganges, the Nile and the Rio de la Plata. They are arranged on a steep rocky reef from which a Roman obelisk taken from the Circus of Maxentius daringly rises up into the air.
Popular tradition has it that the sculptures on the fountain symbolize the rivalry between Bernini and Borromini, who were the most important artists in 17th century Rome. Innocent X at first had commissioned the work to Borromini, but Bernini obtained the commission by “corrupting” Donna Olimpia, the pope’s sister-in-law (he gave her a silver copy of the project).
Borromini built the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, which stands in front of Bernini’s Fountain. For this reason the personified Rivers seem to cover their faces, not to see Borromini’s “horrible” work.
In line with the Fountain of the Four Rivers are the
Fountain of the Moor, in front of the Palazzo Pamphilij and the
Fountain of Neptune, formerly of the Calderari, at the northern end of