Piazza Navona Xmas market

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icona nataleFor the second year in a row, the traditional Christmas market will not take place. Instead, as of December 12th, there will be a "mini lunapark" with the ancient merry-go-round and other stands such as the shooting gallery or the fishing one as in a fair.giostra

It's definitely THE Christmas market in Rome ... the historical and traditional one, the one not to miss. Since the corner market was moved to Campo de 'Fiori, in the second half of nineteenth century, Piazza Navona market has become the Christmas one

A Walk through the stalls

Where one could buy a new ornament for the tree every year, where one could get inspired for curious gifts for children and adults, where a family could take a walk munching a piece of nuts or almonds crunch or sticking cotton candy on their faces, where children could take a ride on a horses merry-go-round, a real “jewel” built in Germany in 1896. After years of discussions on confusion, dirt, vendors with no license, by the will of the City Council mayor, the market has stepped back into the past: no ethnic merchandising, but just sweets, toys, items for the crib, Christmas decorations.
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The vendors, especially craftsmen, have often inherited stall and license from their parents if not even grandparents. Such as Luca, selling nativity characters, who tells us: “I am the grandson of a Piazza Navona’s craftsman and the son of a craftswoman in Piazza Navona, my mom was pregnant here at the stall. Now Mom can’t make it anymore, but we – children – want to keep up our family’s tradition, even if we all have other jobs. The love for this stall and for this square, which our grandfather Giovanni has handed over to us, makes us work in our spare time to create our figurines in the lab we own, just around the corner, in via dei Giubbonari”. 
Merchants appreciate the attempt of “cleaning” the square, even though they seem to miss good old times. “I have clear memories of when I used to be a child that I will never forget – continues Luca – I remember our stall neighbor, a gentleman who used to make nuts crunches, surrounded by caramelized sugar scent, who used to ring a bell in the middle of the afternoon to call all the children of the square and give us a piece of his candies. Or the habit of vendors, who at some time in the evening used to go from one stall to the other with the excuse of going to the cinema or to a book shop and would all end up in some small restaurant to eat and drink together, until the wives left working at the stalls would come and get them, all mad at them”. 

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Today in Piazza Navona you can find all kinds of decorations for the Nativity scene, Christmas tree, table, door and house, or sweets from all ages, from the classic licorice wheel to a small panettone by Peppa Pig, passing through lollipops, honey crunches and marshmallows, and, last but not least, a lot of gifts such as toys or cheap leather products (agendas, wallets, pens, key chains). And then there are stalls to play, as in fairs: the shooting gallery or the fishing one. Among the most interesting stalls, you can’t miss the one of the puppeteer Massimiliano, coming from an old family tradition, he makes and sells handmade puppets, often made in real time in front of a very demanding customer who cannot find what he’s looking for among the ones exposed. From the traditional characters of the Italian comedy (Pulcinella, Pantalone) to those of fairy tales (Pinocchio, Snow White, the Seven Dwarfs) up to modern television (the Simpsons and Hello Kitty), or even to politicians. “I normally create handmade puppets, I call myself “puppeteer” improperly – says Massimiliano – as I do this just to live better, or actually to survive. My family has been owning this stall for over sixty years, initially it was a toys stall ran by my grandfather, then my great-uncle, my grandmother’s brother, had the idea of specializing in puppets handcrafting since the sixties. Today I am the one remaining, every year I have to understand what works on the market and make new characters ... This year it's Peppa Pig ... I'm late because I tried to resist, I didn’t want to do it actually, but I have received so many requests that I had to give up: I am making it now”.

 

 

Alice's Wonderland

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“When I got home from piazza Navona I wrote my letter to Santa. Don't ask me what I wrote, it's just between him and me. With all those colored little balls, all those lights and small statues, I really felt like Christmas.
Actually I even got a Christmas gift in advance, because Mummy bought me a handmade puppet. From a nice man who had tons of them. And he would carve in real time the ones that he didn't have. When we got at his stall he was actually carving one... when I found out what character I laughed. It was Berlusconi's puppet, someone who talks all the time... “Bla, bla, bla”.
I really had to make up my mind before choosing one, because there were some many puppets that I liked, such as Mr. Geppetto, with and without glasses, and the puppet which we all know, Pinocchio. At the end, I picked Dopey, who is my favorite among Snow White's dwarfs. Because he's the youngest, he's very shy and he doesn't talk. Exactly the opposite of Berlusconi... “Bla, bla, bla”.

Just around the corner

santagnese

For those who are born and grew up in Rome, the story of FONTANA DEI FIUMI (literally rivers' fountain) and of Madonnina of SANT'AGNESE in Navona square is just like Santa's story. When you are a child, it comes a time when one of your parents, or you Grandpa, tells you about the fierce competition between Bernini and Borromini: the first one has placed on his fountain a statue which covers its eyes, afraid that the building in front, designed by the competitor, could fall down. The second one has put on top of his church a Virgin Mary, to fight against the fear of the giant statue in front. And then, just like a little friend comes and tells you that Santa doesn't exist, someone tells you that the fountain was built long time before the church, so, this sort of conversation between the two sculptures was not written by the two quarrelling artists, but by the creative imagination of the people of their time.
After all, we are in Navona square, which Belli in a sonet described as “a theatre, a fair, a cheerfullness”. A very fitting description, especially during the holidays. But the main character is not Santa, foreigner from Northern Europe, who is just a guest here. The real master of the house is Befana, a fully Italian old lady, who riding her broom, flies from house to house to bring sweets to good kids and charcoal to the naughty ones, in the night between January 5th and 6th. After a little nap, on the day of the 6th she shows up in town, to honour a tradition, which since 1872 happens in Piazza Navona itself.

fontanaThe story of this square is strictly related to one woman, probably the most powerful in the history of Rome. We owe her the current look of the square. Without her there wouldn't be Bernini's fountain, nor Borromini's church just in front. But at those times she was considered almost a witch. A fame she kept even after her death, being considered as the only ghost of a bright city as Rome. She appears every year on January 7th, a day after the Befana, and she gets out at midnight, exactly like her. Her home? Just look to Sant'Agnese and turn your eyes to the left: it's PAMPHILJ PALACE, now site of the Brazilian embassy, but at mid '600 it used to be the house and headquarter of Lady Olimpia Maidalchini. Her nickname was “Pimpaccia” according to Pasquino, the talking statue just a few steps away  from the square, which collected comments, rumors and jokes of Roman population. pasquinoThe “Popeness” for those pointing out her influence on the brother in law Innocence X, the Pope painted in person by Velasquez and transfigured four centuries later by Francis Bacon. Greedy, social climber, wheeler dealer: we'll skip all the episodes which led to this fame, but we'll tell you about the night of January 7, 1655. Pope Innocence had just died. His body was still warm and Lady Olimpia was already stucking the Pope's gold and silver in two boxes, load them up on a carriage and run away. So the legend says that every January 7, at midnight, a carriage in fire, pulled by skittish horses, headed by a ghost, runs out the gate of Pamphilj Palace to cross Navone square and end its crazy ride in a hole leaving Lady Olimpia in the hands of the devils. Now, you free to believe to this legend or not. After all, it's like Santa: maybe nothing is true, but it's true but it's nice to think that it is.

 

 

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every day from 8th dec, until January 8th, h 10:00 – 1:00 (on bank holidays until 2:00)

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from Termini, Line 64 from Colosseo, Line 87