Ways of Experiencing - A Visual Journey through Rome

Architecture Dated:  Sept. 25, 2015
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Piazza Navona

As said by John Berger in his book - 'Ways of seeing', the relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. “Seeing comes before words”- a child looks and recognizes before it can speak. Public spaces in this regard, have a great role to play- 'the role of experience. ' 

This article is about the experience of some of the streets and public spaces in Rome, Italy. Streets, public spaces and squares bear the symbolic value of the city. As mentioned by Rob Krier in his book- 'Urban Space', streets have more functional character than a square. This article tries to explain and bring out the variety of components that made the place 'Rome' the most experiential. 

Experience of Walkability

I call it a 'visual journey', as the city offers immense variety of aesthetic streets and spaces within walkable distances. The below image clarifies the level of walkability one could have throughout the city.  It gives a hint that walkability was a preconceived thought for creating variety of experiences in the city.

Plan of Rome- showing 'walkability'Figure 1. Plan of Rome- showing 'walkability'

The buildings and spaces constructed in 16th and the 17th century were within a walk of about 1.7 km. For example,

1. It is approximately 0.9 km from Piazza Venezia to Piazza Navona and, from Piazza Navona to Piazza Del Popolo, it is about 1.2 km.

2. There are three divergent paths from the Piazza Del Popolo: 

  • The main street Via Del Corso connects the Piazza Venezia and is about 1.7km in length.
  • The second one goes towards the Piazza Navona and Pantheon.
  • The third one connects Piazza Spagna and the Parco Del Quirinale.

3. The scale of the streets is intimate for the pedestrians and hence encourages walking through them.

4. One can actually walk down from Colloseum to St. Peters Basilica on the other side of river Tiber on a comfortable day.

Rome, as compared to any contemporary city has a very high level of 'walkability.'


Tertiary Street: The street scale is so experiential that a walk down the lane is always comfortable and cheerful throughout the day. Even in narrow streets, the pedestrian lanes are segregated from the vehicular with bollards. People have small parking garages at the lower floors to keep their two-wheelers and four-wheelers. These streets are offered mutual shading by the buildings beside. Often, smaller streets open up to a small public space, which has a fountain and place for people to sit around. These spaces have more sunlight coming in and hence allow people to have multiple activities. There are water fountains in each of these spaces, maintained by the local municipality. One can often find small cafes and restaurants close to these public spaces. Added interesting aspect is that there is always space for birds in the neighborhood.

Via Del BoschettoFigure 2. Via Del Boschetto

People of all age groups use this space throughout the day. In the mornings, these are used as extended cafes. People gather here to have a coffee or a quick breakfast and leave for their offices or workplaces and in the evenings, the same space turns into an open bar.

Piazza Della Madona Dei Monti & Drinking water fountain in the piazzaFigure 3. Piazza Della Madona Dei Monti                                                               Figure 4. Drinking water fountain in the piazza

Secondary Street: These streets are wider but maintain similar building heights as the tertiary streets. Moving down the Corso Vittorio Emanuele street, the building shown in the picture catches my glimpse and attention. A huge graphical canvas is put over the façade of a building under repair, which is a temporary depiction of the original elevation. That way of hiding the ongoing restoration work reflects the great respect for the heritage buildings and does not, in any way, inform any departure from the history.


Another interesting experience through the Torre Argentina, an archaeological site in the middle of the city, is unforgettable. The ancient site was a part of the 'Theatre of Pompey', where Julius Ceaser was betrayed and killed on the steps. After the excavation of the site, the feral cats occupied this space. The space now is inhabited by cats, which are taken care by authorized representatives. In the midst of an ancient and vibrant city, this is such a perfect example that there are spaces for animals also, which thereby enhances the interest of the tourists.

Corso Vittorio Emanuele street & Torre Argentina, a cat sanctuaryFigure 5. Corso Vittorio Emanuele street                                                          Figure 6. Torre Argentina, a cat sanctuary

Public spaces

One of the famous public spaces in Rome is the Piazza Navona, which was built during the 17th century A.D. This is a perfect example of the Baroque Roman Architecture.

The space can be approached through any of the narrow streets as shown in the figure, connecting to it from the main street and has a great element of surprise when you finally get into it.

One of the streets leading to Piazza NavonaFigure 7. One of the streets leading to Piazza Navona

The Palazzo Pamphili designed by Girolamo Rainaldi, the family palace of the pontificate of Innocent X faces the piazza.  The piazza houses three fountains of varying scale. The fountain of four rivers or the Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini is the main fountain at the centre of the space, which has an obelisk on top of it.

Piazza NavonaFigure 8. Piazza Navona

Buildings surrounding the public space are smaller in scale and the open space is pinned by the vertical mass of the obelisks. The overall surroundings provide a uniform and balanced composition.  The space provides a seamless movement all along and opportunity to take a pause to look at things around in detail. Most interesting factor about Piazza Navona is that one would find people of all age groups and abilities spending quality time. As one takes down a walk from Piazza Navona towards the east, it leads to the Pantheon (the ancient Roman temple).

Fontana Dei Quattro FiumiFigure 9. Fontana Dei Quattro Fiumi

Experience of fun

One can have a lot of fun in the piazza and find everyone happy out there. The entire space is a creative stage and various different artists perform their own creative skills to impress the people. There are people playing light music, jokers entertaining the audience for some money, kids enjoying the presence of water fountains and often running around them, cafes and restaurants all along the edges and also people of all age groups stay busy taking selfies in different expressions with different backdrops.

Creative fun & Man standing like a statueFigure 10. Creative fun                                                                                        Figure 11. Man standing like a statue

As rightly said by Kevin Lynch – 'Nothing is experienced by itself, but always in relation to its surroundings, the sequences of events leading up to it, the memory of past experiences.'

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