The Spanish Steps are probably the most famous stairs in the world. It also happens to be situated in one of our favorite cities, Rome. We love it not only for its aesthetic beauty but also for the stories behind it. But how much do you really know about the Spanish Steps and how about some cool Spanish Steps facts?
Brandon’s Pro Tip: I like to bookmark helpful posts in a folder so I can circle back prior to or during my trip. So if you are planning on traveling to Rome at some point, bookmark this article and enjoy!
12 Astounding Facts About The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps is a baroque icon and probably the most monumental staircase you have ever seen. It is easy to snap a pic and go but you found this article which means you are a savvy traveler that wants more.
Get ready to learn some cool facts about these stairs that continue to fascinate us over time and has become a necessary stop on everyone’s agenda who visits the Eternal City.
There are a lot of Steps
If you want to climb the stairs then get ready to climb up a whopping 135 of them! The 135 stairs were designed by Francesco de Sanctis and were completed in 1725 after two years of hard work.
The structure was an immediate hit with the local community which made Piazza di Spagna a very attractive place to take up residence. The steps are dedicated to the holy trinity which is represented by their three tiers; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Famous In Movies
The Spanish Steps gained more exposure to the world audience through the 1953 blockbuster film Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. The movie gave American audiences an in-depth view of Rome and created the centerpiece aura of the Spanish Steps.
In the film, Audrey Hepburn can be seen throwing her gelato on the ground. We do not recommend this behavior as it could result in a significant fine for littering.
For those of you who are Matt Damon lovers, there is even a good shot of the stairs in the film Talented Mr. Ripley.
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Spanish Steps is not the Real Name
The name of the steps eventually took the name “The Spanish Steps” but only really in English. In Italian, they simply refer to them as la Scalinata which derives from their proper name, “La Scalinata di Trinita dei Monti.” French and Spanish would follow similarly.
The Spanish Embassy, which is in the Monaldeschi Palace, had been there for hundreds of years prior to the steps being built. Also, the square that eventually housed the steps was named “Piazza di Spagna” which most likely took its name prior or after the Monaldeschi Palace was purchased by the Spanish Crown.
The name Spanish Steps most likely was coined by John Keats or Shelley who lived adjacent to the right of the steps when facing them.
The Funds to Build them Were from a Frenchman
The steps were built with funds left to the city/area by Étienne Gueffier who was a French diplomat. He left 20,000 scudi, the traded coin of the time, to improve the area which went to great use.
The goal was to link the church at the top of the stairs, which was also a French church, to Palazzo Manaldeschi below in Piazza di Spagna. Do you think he would have still left the money if he knew the name of the stairs would eventually be called Spanish?
The Church at the Top of the Stairs is Owned by the French
The French church of the Santissima Trinita dei Monti is the crowning jewel of the Spanish Steps. The church and nearby Villa Medici, listed below, actually belong to the French State which is a cool fact and more common than you think in Rome.
The church was originally constructed by Louis the XII after invading Naples but he did not complete the project. Pope Sixtus V would end up completing the church which opened its doors in 1585.
The church features two bell towers with windows on all four sides each that create a beautiful open effect. The left-hand bell tower has a clock and the right-hand tower features a meridian.
The Poet John Keats Died Right Next to the Stairs
Keats did not spend his life there, but simply his final months. A doctor recommended he live out his last days with tuberculosis in a warmer setting and he picked Rome. He was a quite successful young man who accomplished himself as a house-hold name yet died at age 25. He said he could hear the water from his deathbed and wrote about it in his last words.
Today there is a museum set up where he died. The Keats-Shelly house is a must for literary buffs as it is much more than Keats’ final resting place. It is a beautifully decorated home that contains paintings, manuscripts, literary works, and more which makes it a living museum. You’ll find not only portraits & works from Keats and Shelley but their extensive list of friends such as Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, and Elizabeth & Robert Browning.
A Tea House For Over a Century
If you are looking at the Stairs, then on your right hand side you will see the Tea Shop Babingtons. The tea shop was set up by 2 English women in 1893. Their names were Isabelle Cargill and Ann Marie Babington. Amazingly the two of them put together all their savings ( 100 pounds) and opened up a small tea shop in the Anglo-Saxon community in Rome at the time ( Near the Spanish Steps).
The risks were high, because, at the time, tea was not that popular a drink in Italy, since it could be sold only in pharmacies. They must have done something right since the establishment is still going strong over 120 years later!
There is an Ancient Obelisk at the Top of the Stairs
This 45-foot obelisk, featured in the picture below, is not an original taken from Egypt but a copy made by Emperor Aurelian in the late 3rd century. He was apparently inspired by the Flaminio obelisk (Piazza del Popolo) that he ordered a duplicate made.
While it sits perched high above Rome on top of the Spanish Steps, this was not it’s original home. The steps came some 1500 years after the obelisk. It was moved to its current home in the late 18th century from the Horti Sallustiani which is an ancient garden whose ruins are close to Termini Station. It is a cool off-the-beaten-path thing to do in Rome. If you are into things like that, check out our article with tons of similar recommendations.
The First McDonalds Caused Massive Protests
When McDonald’s first opened, it caused a huge uproar in the Capital. They decided on a spot right next to the Spanish Square. On May 5th, 1986 the New York Times published an article about the backlash that the city received from the opening of this iconic fast-food restaurant. One of its biggest critics was the Italian Fashion Designer Valentino. Here is a quote from the article:
According to Valentino, who this week began legal action aimed at closing the restaurant, which backs on to his Rome headquarters, the McDonald’s created a ”significant and constant noise and an unbearable smell of fried food fouling the air.” He has asked Italian magistrates to order it closed immediately on the ground that it is a nuisance.
Amusingly, many in the city held up banners asking Clint Eastwood the actor to become their mayor. This is a result of him recently becoming mayor in Carmel, California where he closed down several fast food establishments in the seaside town.
The Fountain at the Bottom is by Bernini
This festive little fountain at the bottom of the Spanish Steps is both beautiful and strange at the same time. It is a baroque fountain of a boat built directly at the foot of the steps that add greatly the “magic” of the area. The fountain was designed and constructed by Pietro Bernini with the help of his son Gian Lorenzo Bernini and has an interesting story.
Even today, there are many floods in Rome but back in the 16th century, it was even worse. In 1598 a massive flood caused the Tiber to overflow which caused a boat from the river to be carried into Piazza di Spagna. When the waters retreated, the boat remained there in the square. When Pietro Bernini received the commission Pope Urban VIII he used the boat as inspiration.
Drunk Driving on the Spanish Steps, Twice!
As hard as this is to believe someone was caught driving a car down the stairs not once, but twice! The first time was in 2007 when a 24-year-old drunk Colombian man started driving down the stairs. Apparently, it took him a while to understand he was driving on stairs. Once he understood he tried to push the car back up the stairs- yes, you read that correctly. Needless to say, he was arrested.
If that is not incredible enough, it happened a 2nd time in 2018! The 2nd time was an Italian man who was also drunk. The first lesson here is obviously not to drive when you have been drinking. The second lesson is if you have been drinking and are driving, stay clear of the Spanish Steps.
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Sitting on the Spanish Steps is Costly!
As counterintuitive as this may sound- As of August 2019, you are no longer allowed to sit on the Spanish Steps. This policy was put in place as an effort to ensure decorum and security in Rome’s downtown.
Sitting on the Spanish Steps can now result in a 400€ fine, so make sure you abide by Rome’s new policies when visiting this iconic monument.
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