What’s Beneath Piazza Navona

You probably know today’s Piazza Navona for its beautiful fountains, the crown jewel being Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, and the lively feeling of this gracious space, filled with vendors as well as people enjoying a stroll, both locals and visitors alike. You may even know it retains the distinctive oval shape of what it one was — a race track built by the Emperor Domitian.

The Stadium of Domitian
The Stadium of Domitian

It used to be that the only glimpse you could have of this ancient stadium was a little section located back behind the north entrance/exit to the piazza at Via Di Tor Sanguigna (the marvelously named Bloody Tower Street)…

Section of the Stadium of Domitian visible from the street
The small section of the Stadium of Domitian visible from the street

However, in January 2014, a new Stadio di Domiziano (Stadium of Domitian) museum opened there to allow you access to more of the archaeological site. It’s quite a small museum, priced at 3 euros, and lets you wander through a section of the remains of the stadium, with arches, pillars, and stairs. This is all several meters below today’s street level.

Stairs, arches, and walls from Domitian's Stadium
Stairs, arches, and walls from Domitian’s Stadium
Arches leading through the stadium complex
Arches leading through the stadium complex
Stairs leading up under an arch
Stairs leading up under an arch

There are also a few remnants of the statues that once graced the stadium…

Statue on display
Statue on display

There is an educational video showing you what it once was like and placing it in context; always amazing to see how built up ancient Rome was!

A depiction of what the stadium once looked like ...
A depiction of what the stadium once looked like …

There are also educational posters (in Italian and English) throughout the area on both the stadium and other important monuments in Rome.

The museum was open until 8 p.m. on the Saturday night when we visited, and when we went at 6:30 p.m., we had the place all to ourselves. This is not a major museum, but certainly worthwhile if you ever been curious about what’s beneath Piazza Navona.

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