Piazza del Popolo is a large urban square in Rome. The name in modern Italian literally means “People’s Square”, but historically it derives from the poplars (populus in Latin, pioppo in Italian) after which the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, in the northeast corner of the piazza, takes its name.
The piazza lies inside the northern gate in the Aurelian Walls, once the Porta Flaminia of ancient Rome, and now called the Porta del Popolo. This was the starting point of the Via Flaminia, the road to Ariminum (modern day Rimini) and the most important route to the north. At the same time, before the age of railroads, it was the traveller’s first view of Rome upon arrival.
*Interesting fact! : For centuries, the Piazza del Popolo was a place for public executions, the last of which took place in 1826.
The layout of the piazza today was designed in neoclassical style between 1811 and 1822 by the architect Giuseppe Valadier. He removed a modest fountain by Giacomo Della Porta, erected in 1572,and demolished some insignificant buildings and haphazard high screening walls to form two semicircles, reminiscent of Bernini’s plan for St. Peter’s Square, replacing the original cramped trapezoidal square centred on the Via Flaminia.
Valadier’s Piazza del Popolo, however, incorporated the verdure of trees as an essential element; he conceived his space in a third dimension, expressed in the building of the viale that leads up to the balustraded overlook from the Pincio (above, right).