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Upon entering this small plaza located in front of the Pantheon, one would hardly think with all the ancient pomp and grandeur in the surrounding area, that this piazza used to be considered one of the most deplorable places in Rome. Throughout its existence it was an area known for bird-sellers, beggars and filth. When Rome had been under French administration, Napoleon wanted the whole area demolished. Thankfully, however, all has changed as the throngs of tourists amble around the fountain and obelisk before entering the imposing Pantheon. The fountain was built in 1575 and the obelisk was placed in 1711, the latter an artifact originally intended for the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis.
Sant'Eustachio is the eighth district of Rome with a lot of tourist attractions to explore. The whole area once used to be a cultivated estate belonging to a nobleman, but was later incorporated into the expanding city. The district's boundaries encompass many historical areas with tall church domes and Romanesque arches. The Piazzas too are abuzz with activity. The towering obelisk in front of the Pantheon, is a must-visit for every tourist. And if later you wish to indulge in some Italian cuisine, then start walking on the roadside pavements. Lining these historical streets are fine restaurants and joints sure to make your mouth water.
Piazza della Minerva is just off Via della Minerva behind the Pantheon. The name of the church, Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva, was given by the church's position as it is believed it was built over the Roman temple dedicated to Minerva Calcidica. Work began on the church in 1280 but the façade was only completed in 1453. In fact this was meant to be temporary but it has remained unaltered despite many plans up until the 19th Century to modify it. The interior is the only example of Gothic architecture in Rome. On one side of the church can be seen the former convent which was once the offices of the Ministry of Education and now of the Ministry of Scientific and Technological Research. It also holds the Casanatense Library with texts from the history of the Church. In the center of the square in front of the church stands a small Egyptian obelisk known as the Pulcin della Minerva.
The Egyptian obelisk known as Pulcin della Minerva stands in the center of Piazza della Minerva in front of the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. The name Pulcin della Minerva (Minerva's Chick) was given because of the obelisk's small size. Its position in front of a church important artistically and historically and behind the famous Pantheon, as well as the fact that it stands on an unusual marble base in the form of an elephant, has made the monument well known. What is not widely known is that the elephant, carved by Ercole Ferrata in 1667, was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (although subsequent modifications made the sculpture rather more bulky.) The choice of an elephant was made to symbolize the epigraph on the monument, which says that only a strong mind can support wisdom (as symbolized by the obelisk.)
Today this is a well-known cinema, but it used to be a palazzo. It was built in 1400 for Cardinal Domenico Capranica and is one of the few buildings of its kind still standing. At the end of the XV secolo, architectural additions were made to the building, thus mixing medieval and Renaissance styles, as was fashionable at the time. The windows still have the cardinal's coat of arms.
Elephant and Obelisk is a grand white marble sculpture of an elephant, with its trunk swung sideways and the tall obelisk (sundial) on its back. Sculpted by Giano Lorenzo Barnini in 1667, this towering monument is a fine example of the artist's sense of balance and symmetry. The majestic elephant with it's detailed features and the finesse of the sculpture at large is sure to leave you spellbound. This stunning masterpiece stands in the square right opposite to the Santa Maria sopra Minerva Church and the obelisk's shadow tells the onlooker the exact time of the day. There are ten other obelisks scattered across this grand old empire.
Little-known due to the overshadowing presence of the nearby Piazza Rotonda in front of the Pantheon, Piazza Maddalena was built in 1628 with the aim of providing the church of Santa Maria della Maddalena with a space for religious ceremonies and processions. The request for the space was granted by Pope Urban VIII and the piazza was paid for privately. When the church was given its facade by Giuseppe Sarti in the 18th Century (the only Rococo facade in Rome), the piazza was the only place from which the elaborate front could be admired.