Why are the Spanish Steps so significant?

Connecting two historic monuments in Rome, the Spanish Steps have become an important historic site in themselves. By why is this the case?

The Spanish Steps are one of the most visited tourist spots in all of Rome. Decorated in the Roman Baroque style, the stairs hold great beauty, history, and culture. It has made appearances in artworks, poems, famous films, and countless Instagram posts – listed as one of the most photographed places in the city. But why is this the case? What makes these steps different from any other staircases which are littered throughout the area?

The beginning of the Spanish Steps

Despite the name, the steps were actually not constructed by the Spanish. The Spanish part of the name comes from the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See, which was located at the base square Piazza di Spagna, which translates to the Spanish Square. The stairs were actually made by Étienne Gueffier, a French diplomat and designed by the not-so-well-known Italian architect Francesco de Sanctis. Francesco won the competition for designing the steps in 1717, after generations of heated discussions over what was going to be made and by who. Before the steps, the area was just a steep slope leading from the square up to the church, on the shoulder of the Pincian Hill. Italian authorities weren’t sure how to urbanise the area, some considered statures and ambitious monuments, with little success, leaving the project dormant for some time. It wasn’t until Pope Clement Xi renewed interest in the project that it was decided that they would build large stone terraced steps with baroque style details. This was most likely influenced by the conventional terraced garden stairs popular at the time. Francesco is said to have been the winning architect due to his tromp l’oeil effect, which makes the elevation between the two sites appear less dramatic. The steps were finally completed in 1724 and instantly became a hot attraction.

Built in the early 18th century the steps have seen a lot, and although still around and used today by people all over the world, naturally the steps are a little worn and damaged in places. This has caused them to be restored several times, most recently in 1995 and then renovated in 2015, being reopened in 2016.

It’s linked with the Art world

The steps became a wonderland for beauty and creativity after many appearances in famous films, poems, and artworks. Probably the most well-known film was the 1950s ‘Roman Holiday’ starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. During the 18th century, the steps became a meeting place for local artists due to its inspirational beauty. After the artists arrive, the crowds gathering in this spot started to fill with more and more beautiful people. The high concentration of pretty gals and guys were wannabe models and flooded the area due to the artists and photographers using the steps as their muse. The budding models all hoping they would be the one captured in a photograph or painting that displayed their beauty with the stairs as their backdrop.

What activities you can do at Spanish Steps

    • Climb to the top

      There are 138 steps up to the top, and although this may seem a bit daunting, it is not a difficult climb for most travellers. With several wide space levels along the way, the steps allow you to take a break while climbing to enjoy the view. So bring your comfiest shoes, a sun hat (if you’re going in summer) and some sun cream and enjoy the trek.

    • Sip on a coffee

      At the base of the steps in the famous Piazza di Spagna, home to many beautiful decorations, Fontana della Barcaccia, and some local shops. Sit outside on the classic European café tables and sip on a coffee while you listen to the trickling sound of water from the beautiful fountain nearby.

    • Kick back and relax on the steps

      One of the best activities to do at the steps is to simply relax at them. The common spot to relax is on the steps themselves, with both locals and tourists people watching, drawing, reading, or simply soaking up the sun.

    • Note John Keats’s House

      Just to the right of the steps as you begin to climb is the house where English poet, John Keats, lived and died in 1821. Now a museum dedicated to his and other romantic poets works, the collection contains a great many treasures displayed through a chain of beautiful rooms. For just €5 dollars you can appreciate these exhibition rooms, two spacious terraces with stunning views of the square, a gift shop and a cinema room showing an introductory film about the Romantics.

    • Get your portrait done

      To this day the steps are still littered with artists, with many offering portrait paintings for tourists interested. As they do this every day, the artists are quick and easy, handing you a stunning masterpiece in less than half an hour.

    • If you’re interested in finding out more about the iconic Spanish Steps and more in Rome, then why not check out our Historical Rome Walking Tour!
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