The Interesting Piazza Sant’Ignazio

I recently watched the documentary about the architect, “Richard Meier in Rome.” I regret I still haven’t been to his Jubilee church, but his Ara Pacis museum is an old friend.

One thing he raves about in the film is the joy of Roman piazze — how they were designed for visual impact. This made me chuckle, since so much of Rome feels like it is the result of random building, with every inch being built up over a long period of time. But he mentions one piazza that is clearly designed for effect, a piazza that I always enjoy walking through.

A print of Piazza Sant’Ignazio by the great engraver Giuseppe Vasi

Piazza Sant’Ignagzio stands in front of, appropriately enough, the imposing church of Saint Ignazio, or more properly, the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio. The present church dates from the first half of the 1600’s, and is older than the piazza.

The Baroque facade of the church


Interior of Sant’Ignazio


The main altar

The thing I like most about the church is its use of trompe l’oeil in the ceiling. The main painting, which depicts Saint Ignatius being welcomed into heaven by Christ and the Virgin Mary, is enormous and vibrant.  It’s designed so the viewer can see the magnificent vaulted level above, rather than a flat ceiling.

Close-up of the magnificent ceiling, painted by Andrea Pozzo.  This photo simply does not do it justice… you need to go to Rome to really experience its grandeur!

The church also has a novel solution to the problem of running out of funds to build a dome. It has a completely fake painted 3-D “dome” instead.  

The completely flat “dome”

But I think the piazza, not the church, is the real star. Below is a satellite photo that shows the wonderful shapes of the buildings across from the church, which in turn, make the piazza itself a wonderful, rather Borromini-like shape, with the playful movement of the Baroque:

Piazza Sant’Ignazio

Here are some shots of the buildings that stand across from the church, with all their wonderful curves.  The curvature of government building directly across demonstrates the architectural cleverness of its era: it’s both convex and concave at the same time, depending on your perspective. 

The government palazzo directly across from the church


A close-up of the palazzo, showing the strong curve

At the corners and sides we have clear evidence this piazza was intentionally designed since even the buildings’ cornices continue the visual movement.

One of the side buildings, with its smaller, but even more pronounced curve — notice the shape’s continuation by the cornices of the adjacent buildings.


One of the buildings on the sides, with a “hidden” side street


Ps.  If you’re still wondering how to pronounce Ignazio, it’s [eenyatzee-o] (or [eeñatsee-o] if you’re inclined to Spanish).