Note: this photo was published in a Jan 8, 2015 blog titled "Does My BMI Look Big In This, and Does It Really Matter?"
It was also published in a Mar 20, 2015 blog titled "New Bike Season Resolutions." And it was published in an undated (late Mar 2015) blog titled "It’s finally Spring, so try these five new bike season resolutions to keep you cycling all year long."
After dozens of trips to Rome during a period of nearly 40 years, I have photographed just about every imaginable scene at such popular tourist spots as the Spanish Steps, Piazza del Popolo, Castel Sant'Angelo, St. Peters, and the Coliseum. But there are lots of other things to see in the Eternal City, including lots of places that I have not yet photographed.
One such spot is Campo dei Fiori, a rectangular piazza located not too far away from Piazza Navona (photos of which you can see in this Flickr set). "Campo dei Fiori" apparently means "field of flowers" in Italian, and the name was given during the Middle Ages, when today's piazza was a simple meadow.
Indeed, that simple fact illustrates one of the most amazing aspects of an ancient city like Rome: you look at what exists today as a simple plaza, surrounded by colorful but ordinary Italian buildings with cafes and coffee-shops on the ground floor ... and you just naturally assume that it's always been like this, all the way back to the day when Rome was founded. But it turns out that in ancient Rome, the area that's now Campo dei Fiori was unused space between Pompey's theater and the flood-prone Tiber River. Until the 15th century, the square remained undeveloped, though the first church in the vicinity (Santa Brigida a Campo dei Fiori, in case you're curious) was built during the pontificate of Boniface IX (1389-1404); in addition, the area was paved in 1456 by Ludovico Cardinal Trevisani, under Pope Callixtus III.
Throughout much of the Middle Ages, Campo dei Fiori was a focus for commercial and street culture. The surrounding streets are named for various trades -- e.g., Via dei Balestrari (crossbow-makers), Via dei Baullari (coffee-makers), Via dei Cappellari (hat-makers), Via dei Chiavari (key-makers), and Via dei Giubbonari (tailors). Eventually the square became a necessary corridor for important people passing between the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano and the Vatican, which brought a flourishing horse market twice a week, several inns, hotels, and shops.
Somewhat more dramatically, executions were held publicly in Campo dei Fiori during the Middle Ages. And in particular, the philosopher Giordana Bruno was burnt alive by the Roman Inquisition on February 17, 1600, because his ideas (which included heliocentrism) were considered dangerous, and all of his work was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Holy Office. In 1887, Ettore Ferrari dedicated a monument to Signor Bruno on the exact spot of his death; you'll see that monument among the photos in this Flickr set, and Bruno stands defiantly facing the Vatican, where his statue marked his stature as a martyr to freedom of speech. (For what it's worth, the theologian and scientist Marco Antonio de Dominis was also burned at the stake in this square, in 1624.)
Life has grown somewhat more peaceful in the past century or so; since 1869, there has been a vegetable and fish market in Campo dei Fiori every morning. I am told that the inscription on the fountain in the middle of the square ("fa del ben e lassa dire") means "Do well and let them talk," and it seems to fit the mood of the place as tourists, visitors, residents, shoppers, and shop-vendors gossip and chat amongst themselves. At night, Campo dei Fiori is a popular meeting place for teenagers and young men and women, both Italian and foreign.
I must confess that I knew nothing about these details when I decided to visit the piazza; all I knew was that it had a thriving farmer's market, and that it was considered colorful and scenic. I should have come in the morning, when the shopping was at its height and there was more food in the various stalls and carts; instead, I arrived in the early afternoon, and had only an hour or two to wander around and photograph the scene, before the shop-keepers began to wrap things up, put things away, and close down for the afternoon.
As usual, I took hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of photos; and as usual, I deleted the vast majority of them. But I hope that the 50 "keepers" that survived will give you a sense of what this delightful little corner of Rome is like; perhaps you'll have a chance to visit it too.
Meanwhile, I'll look for yet another out-of-the-way corner to visit on my next trip to Rome...