Piazza di Spagna, Birthplace of musical performance, Italian Youth Committee UNESCO

Piazza di Spagna, with the staircase of Trinità dei Monti, is one of the most famous squares in Rome. It has its name in the palace of Spain, home of the embassy of the Iberian State at the Holy See. On the right corner of the stairwell is the home of English poet John Keats, who lived and died in 1821, today transformed into a museum dedicated to his memory and to his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley, full of books and memorabilia of English Romanticism . In the left corner there is the Babington’s tea room founded in 1893. In the center of the square there is the famous Barcaccia fountain, dating back to the early baroque period, carved by Pietro Bernini and his son, the most famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Piazza di Spagna has perfect acoustics. Orchestral music as we know it today was born in this very square, in 1687. Here, for the first time in musical history, a large group of musicians performed the same score for a large audience, surrounded by breathtaking scenery, both natural and artificial (fireworks). There were no barriers between the music and the audience, or between the stage and the “parterre”.

On the side of via Frattina lies the Propaganda Fide Palace, owned by the Holy See. Faced with its façade, designed by Bernini (while the lateral facade is instead of Borromini), stands the column of the Immaculate Conception, which was raised after the proclamation of the dogma by the will of King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies in thanks for a escaped attacked, and inaugurated on December 8, 1857. Since 1923, firefighters have offered an acrobatic floral tribute to the statue, using their stairs; in 1953 Pope Pius XII wanted to attend the ceremony, but it was with John XXIII (1958) that the papal presence at that ceremony became a true tradition, faithfully maintained by all the pontiffs.

The perfect acoustics of Piazza di Spagna are due to its unique shape, which makes it a perfect architectural sounding board.

The square is cited in a famous poem by Cesare Pavese, called “I will pass from the Piazza da Spagna”, whose text was fully portrayed on a plate near the Babington’s Tea Room.

In 1687, Piazza di Spagna hosted two great festivities. One was to celebrate the healing of King Louis XIV from a long illness, the other to celebrate the name day of the Queen of Spain, Maria Luisa of Bourbon. Before this turning point, live music had been a “private affair”, hence the name “chamber music”.

In August 1687, the Spanish ambassador arranged a serenade for 5 voices and 80 instruments for the queen’s name day in Piazza di Spagna.

It was a way to respond to the French, who – in April of that year – had celebrated the healing of their king with a superb serenade in the Trinità dei Monti.

The orchestras were “modern” in several respects: the musicians played as a single body, arranged in tiers, and performed facing the public.

In Piazza di Spagna, the way we listen to music and interact with it was changed forever.

Youth Committee of the Italian National Commission for UNESCO