Piazza Venezia is one of the most famous squares in Rome. Given its strategic position – at the very end of the Via del Corso, and at the junction with Via dei Fori Imperiali, which leads all the way to the Colosseum – it’s impossible not to at least pass by this square during a trip to Rome.
If you are curious to find out more about Piazza Venezia, you are in the right place: I know the area well, and I am about to share everything I know with you.
Don’t forget to read my post The Most Beautiful Squares In Rome.
What You Must Know About Piazza Venezia, Rome
How did Piazza Venezia get its name?
Before Piazza Venezia was given its current name, the square actually went under not just one but two different names. Firstly it was called Piazza di San Marco, because of its relative proximity to the basilica of the same name.
In 1455, the west side of the square was remodeled under the orders of Cardinal Pietro Barbo; this remodeling led to buildings in the vicinity being demolished to make way for a new palazzo.
This cardinal later became Pope Paul II. He took a large basin from the Baths of Caracalla (later moved) and placed it in the center of the piazza. From then on, the square was called Piazza della Conca di San Marco.
In 1560, the palazzo commissioned by Pietro Barbo was given to the Republic of Venice (Repubblica di Venezia) by Pope Pius IV. The Republic then made the palazzo its embassy, giving the piazza its name today: Piazza Venezia.
The history of Piazza Venezia
The piazza’s location – at the foot of Capitoline Hill, and alongside Trajan’s Forum – has helped shape its very long history. It is here that the Via dei Fori Imperiali starts; this the main artery between here, past the Roman Forum, all the way to the Roman Colosseum.
Recent excavations of the square have unearthed ancient remains, including the ruins of Emperor Hadrian’s Athenaeum – a school dedicated to literary and scientific learning.
The location has meant that Piazza Venezia has long been a place where different routes and districts converge, making it something of a central hub of activity for Rome. It has been redeveloped several times over the centuries, firstly by Cardinal Pietro Barbo in 1455.
For centuries, this was the finish line for the famous Corsa dei Barberi, a riderless horse race starting at Piazza del Popolo, and going along the Via del Corso (hence the name corso, which means “course” in English).
In the early 19th century, Piazza Venezia became the property of the Hapsburgs and was where Austro-Hungarian diplomats stayed in the city. Ownership reverted back to Italian hands after the First World War.
It’s not just the ancient history that has shaped Piazza Venezia, but its location and scale as a large, open space has also shaped its modern history, too. The current appearance of the square is mainly from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. It is here that the Victor Emmanuel II Monument was built – an imposing structure later added to and much used by Mussolini’s Fascist government.
Much of the surrounding neighborhood had to be destroyed to make way for the Victor Emmanuel II Monument, and with it many historic structures were lost too. The current rectangular layout of the square is what remains after this more recent redevelopment.
What’s under Piazza Venezia?
There’s a lot to be discovered underground in Rome, and underneath the surface of Piazza Venezia is no different. Here in 2009, during construction work for Metro Line C, a school built under Emperor Hadrian was discovered. Called the Athenaeum, taking its name from the Greek city that was respected and long frequented for its culture and learning, the ruins sit 5.5 meters (18 feet) underground. The complex dates back to 123 AD.
Not much is known about the details of the teachings offered at the Athenaeum, but it is thought to have been a very important institution – a sort of finishing school or higher education university. Visitors to Piazza Venezia today can see the submerged remains of the school by walking to nearby Piazza della Madonna di Loreto.
Make sure to read my post What To See In Rome Underground.
Main attractions in Piazza Venezia
Originally built around a medieval tower, what would become the Palazzo Venezia was originally known as Palazzo San Marco. It was built in 1455 by then Cardinal Pietro Barbo; stone from the Colosseum was recycled and used for the construction of the palace. It was here that cardinals from the nearby Church of San Marco would reside. In 1469, the palazzo underwent a large extension, and became a residential Papal palace.
Later, Pope Pius IV gave the palazzo to the Republic of Venice in 1564 to gain their favor. It was used as the embassy for the Venetian Republic for centuries until Venice was taken by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the early 19th century.
During Mussolini’s reign, he used the palace as his seat of government and private residence. The palazzo’s balcony was the place from which he addressed the crowds on numerous important occasions, including the conquest of Ethiopia, and Italy’s entry into the Second World War.
The Palazzo Venezia is now home to both the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo di Venezia, and the Library of Archaeology and Art History. The museum’s collection features work by a number of artists including Bernini, Vasari and Algardi. Also on show are miscellaneous artifacts from Italy’s history including various weapons, tapestries and medals.
Officially the Victor Emmanuel II Monument and also known as the Altare della Pace and Altar of the Fatherland in Engligh, this controversial piece of architecture has long been seen as an ugly blight on the city.
It was originally built to honor Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a united Italy since the 6th century. Built in 1885, the design was based on Hellenistic sanctuaries, and was the idea of Giuseppi Sacconi.
Different sculptors from the newly created regions of Italy were enlisted to decorate the structure with a number of statues and carvings. It was inaugurated on the 4th June, 1911, on the 50th anniversary of Italy’s unification. Following the First World War, the monument became the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1921 – still the backdrop for official ceremonies and memorials to this day.
In 1922, with the rise of Fascism, the monument became the location for military parades and many of Mussolini’s speeches. Fascist imagery and sculptures were added to the monument, additions that were fully completed by 1935.
After the Second World War, in 1946, the Fascist symbols were completely removed from the monument and it was reverted to its original, secular structure. However, the Altare della Pace remains an unpopular landmark in Rome. People liken it to a wedding cake, for one thing.
Staircases and terraces allow public access today, and it’s also home to the Central Museum of the Reunification (on the left side of the monument), dedicated to the unification of Italy from 1848 to 1871.
Check out my post A Guide To The Altar Of The Fatherland.
Not far from the Piazza Venezia – just across the Via dei Fori Imperiali, in fact – is the icon that is Trajan’s Column. Built between 107 and 113, and commissioned by the Roman Senate, this triumphal column was created to celebrate Trajan’s victories in the Dacian Wars (between 101-106).
The elaborate column was the work of a famous architect of the day, Apollodorus Damascus. The column stands at around 30 meters (98 feet) tall and is made from a series of 20 marble drums.
Incredibly, the outside of the column features a continuous spiral of 2,662 figures across 155 scenes; you’ll be able to spot Trajan himself 58 times on the column, as well as many Roman soldiers and captured Dacians. The narrative is very much a celebration of the victory against the Dacians.
Aside from the carvings, one of the most amazing things about Trajan’s Column is the staircase situated within the column itself. It features a staircase consisting of 185 steps that lead to a viewing platform at the top; an incredible feat of engineering for the ancient world. The design of the column inspired many others erected as part of emperors’ and generals’ triumphs.
Fontana della Pigna
The Fontana della Pigna is one of the many fontane rionali di Roma – neighborhood fountains placed in nine of Rome’s rioni to reflect the character of each district. For Pigna, Pietro Lombardi – who was behind the fountain project – created a fountain topped with a stone pinecone (pigna means pinecone). The fountain is fed by the ancient Aqua Marcia aqueduct.
Pigna, after all, was named after a colossal bronze pinecone that was found in the Middle Ages among the ruins of the Agrippa Baths. That same pinecone is now located in the Belvedere Courtyard of the Vatican Museums.
Head over to my post The Prettiest Fountains In Rome.
Where is Piazza Venezia?
You will find Piazza Venezia in Rione IX Pigna – close to Monti – at the end of the Via del Corso, which connects the square to Piazza del Popolo. It is located at the base of Capitoline Hill, with Trajan’s Forum (and the iconic Trajan’s Column) to the northeast, across the Via dei Fori Imperiali.
How to get to Piazza Venezia
Getting to Piazza Venezia from the nearby Termini station, for example, is easy. You can reach it within 20 minutes on foot. There are also a number of bus lines that connect the Piazza Venezia with the rest of the city, including 64, 40 and 70 (there are numerous bus stops). Tram number 8 stops right nearby (the stop is Venezia).
The nearest metro station is Cavour, which is around a 10-minute walk away from the piazza itself. Colosseo is just about as far.