Interesting facts about the Spanish Steps

spanish steps

The Spanish Steps are a set of steps in Rome, Italy, climbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna (“Spanish Square”) at the base and Piazza Trinita dei Monti, dominated by the Trinita dei Monti church at the top.

The monumental stairway has a total of 135 steps (the slightly elevated drainage system is often mistaken for the first step).

The Spanish steps were built in 1723-1725 by a design of the rather little known architect Francesco de Sanctis and were financed by French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s bequeathed.

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It was built in order to link the Spanish Embassy (the primary site of Spain’s influence in Rome) and the Trinita dei Monti Church (under patronage of the King of France).

The Spanish embassy was located in the plaza at the base of the steps, so the plaza became the Piazza di Spagna (“Spanish Square”). The name then carried over to the steps.

The Trinita dei Monti church stands at the top of the steps. With its twin towers it dominates the skyline.

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At the end of the fifteenth century, only a small chapel existed on the hill. In 1495, French King Louis XII
commissioned the erection of a new church, replacing the chapel. Construction started in 1502 and dragged on for decades. It was only consecrated in 1585 by Pope Sixtus V.

At the base of Piazza di Spagna you can find the Baroque fountain named Fontana della Barcaccia, “Fountain of the Ugly Boat,” built in 1627-29 by Pietro Bernini; a member of the renowned artist family Bernini and father of famous Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

spanish steps fountain

The fountain, with its characteristic form of a sinking ship, is said to be based upon a folk legend. The legend says that a fishing boat was carried away to this exact spot during the flood of the River Tiber in late 16th century. The design with the sinking boat also helped Bernini to overcome a technical problem, due to low water pressure.

The obelisk that looms above the Spanish Steps is a 2nd-century Roman copy of the Flaminian Obelisk (an Egyptian obelisk built 3200 years ago for Pharaoh Rameses II, located in the Piazza del Popolo). The obelisk was originally located in the Gardens of Sallust. In 1789 it was moved to its current location by the request of Pope Pius VI.

spanish steps obelisk

At the corner on the right as one begins to climb the steps, is the house where English poet John Keats lived and died in 1821; it is now a museum dedicated to his memory, full of memorabilia of the English Romantic generation.

keats shelley museum

On the opposite side of the Spanish Steps from John Keats museum are Babington’s Tea Rooms that have been serving English tea for more than a century. The tea shop was set up, in 1893 by two English residents Isabel Cargill and Anna Maria Babington. This was a time when it was only possible to buy tea in pharmacy shops. Babington’s Tea Rooms are now a bit of an instituution and there are restaurant facilities as well.

babington's tea rooms

This beautiful place is not only one of Rome’s most popular gathering places, but the steps are also one of the longest and widest staircases in all of Europe.

It is especially beautiful in spring, when pots of blooming azaleas are laid out on the Spanish Steps.

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Throughout history, the Spanish Steps have been restored several times. Today, eating and drinking on the steps is strictly forbidden in order to keep the staircase clean. Already in the Renaissance period, the square was one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city and it still is to this very day.

The 1953 film Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, made the Spanish Steps famous to an American audience.

Bob Dyland talks about the Spanish Steps in his song “When I Paint My Masterpiece“.

The Steps were featured prominently in the film version of The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Matt Damon in the title role.

On the 13th June, 2007, a drunken young man attempted to drive a Toyota Celica down the Spanish Steps. Luckily no one was hurt, but several of the 200-year-old steps were chipped and scuffed. The driver was arrested.

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