When Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck rode across Rome’s streets on a Vespa in the 1953 blockbuster movie Roman Holiday, the world’s eyes turned to the Eternal City. The Spanish Steps were featured in the famous scene where Hepburn is eating a gelato… a scene repeated at all hours of the day by the hundreds of tourists and locals who flock to the timeless staircase. In the end, don’t we all want to have a little taste of la dolce vita?
A bit of history…
The 138 steps, also known as the “Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti”, was originally built to link the Spanish embassy to the Holy See at the base, to the church of Trinità dei Monti at the top. Designed in Baroque style by Italian architects Francesco de Sanctis and Alessandro Specchi, Europe’s widest staircase was constructed between 1723 and 1725 thanks to the funding of French diplomat, Etienne Gueffier. The fresh water fountain at the bottom of the steps, Fontana della Barcaccia (which translates to the “fountain of the ugly boat” because of its half-sunken ship shape) was commissioned by Pope Urban III and built by father and son Bernini.
The subway station “Spagna” opens right onto the square. The access to the Spanish Steps and its neighboring streets couldn’t be easier. A short troll from the Trevi Fountain or Piazza del Popolo will also get you to the famous scalinata. And if you are coming from another area of the city, there are buses that take you down Via del Corso, a main street which intersects the many little elegant streets that lead to the square.
Aside from being a superb meeting spot with plenty of room where to sit and relax, the Spanish Steps are also a popular location where wonderful events take place every year. Since 1951, the beginning of spring is always marked by the steps being covered in pots of bright pink azaleas, a truly unforgettable sight for those who have the chance to visit during that time of the year. If you are in Rome on December 8th, head to Piazza Mignanelli (just southeast of Piazza di Spagna), where there is the Column of the Immaculate Conception. On that day, the pope attends a ceremony during which a bouquet is placed around the right arm of the statue of the Virgin Mary which stands on top of the column.
Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps can be visited at all hours of the day. You can sit on the steps and do some people watching (a typical thing to do on a lazy Sunday!) all year round. The church at the top of the staircase, Chiesa della Trinità dei Monti, is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday from 6 am to 8 pm.
Nice monument… Now where can I eat?
The Spanish Steps area offers a wonderful medley of affordable delicious options, as well as very upscale options for the crowd who likes to see and be seen. On the affordable side, the Pastificio on Via della Croce is a great choice for a quick succulent lunch. Don’t feel like reading a menu that feels like reading the Yellow Pages? At Pastificio, everything is made easy: two choices of pasta, that’s all you get! The pasta is made fresh in house and so are the sauces, not to mention the affordable price: 4€ for a very generous portion. It’s impossible to go wrong. Hop to Pompi, right across the street to sample what locals call some of the best Tiramisu in Rome. In the mood to pamper yourself with a more luxurious outing? Head to Hôtel de Russie for an aperitif and supper in their beautifully kept lush gardens. It will surely be a memorable experience, one that you can only live in the Eternal City.
What are the Spanish Steps up to today?
Like many Roman sites, restoration and work is often scheduled throughout the year. The fountain at the foot of the Spanish Steps was unveiled in September after being covered for most of 2014 to undergo a facelift. The church at the top of the staircase, however, is almost entirely obstructed by scaffolding till at least the beginning of 2016. But this shouldn’t deter you from enjoying a few hours of your Roman Holiday in this lavish area, adored by so many.