Welcome to our guide to the 15 most beautiful squares in Italy.
A city’s main square is where it shows off its best side to the world, and in Italy that means some of the most stunning squares in the world.
We’ve visited all of these squares, in some cases many times over, and they’re a great way to experience any Italian city or town.
We’ve compiled this guide to the best squares in Italy to give you an overview of some of the best places to visit around the country. We’ve described each one in detail, and hope you get to enjoy some of them as much as we did.
Famous Squares In Italy: An Introduction
The Piazza – or Square – is the centrepiece of all Italian towns and cities.
It’s usually a beautiful public space, built around one of the city’s foremost buildings, monuments or churches. And sometimes all three.
The Piazza is also the centre of public life in a city or town, somewhere people meet up socially.
Don’t expect an Italian piazza to be square in shape. Some are rectangular, others L-shaped, some elliptical and one of the Italian squares we feature is W-shaped.
Squares In Italy – Our Top 15
Piazza San Marco Venice – St Mark’s Square Venice
St Mark’s Square is perhaps the most famous of all squares in Italy. It’s the grand stage for the stunning Byzantine-influenced Basilica di San Marco – St Mark’s Basilica. And it was the place to see and be seen as far back as 1720, when fashionable Caffe Florian first opened.
St Mark’s is one of the most beautiful churches in Europe, with an astounding collection of golden mosaics from the 13rth century. You need to pre-book a time slot to visit, and get a meagre ten-minutes to tear around it in poor lighting. Piazza San Marco is heavily over-touristed and over-crowded, ruining the whole experience of the place.
The adjacent square, the Piazzetta di San Marco, offers a glimpse of the Venetian lagoon and Palladio’s church of San Giorgio Maggiore. It’s equally – if not more – magnificent than the Piazza, but just as crowded.
The best time to visit St Mark’s Square is around dawn, when everyone else is still asleep. It’s beautiful at this time of day at any time of year. I once woke up to see it carpeted in snow, a magical sight I got to savour for a few seconds. Although I had to persuade the council worker to stop so I could get the shot first.
Otherwise, visit at dusk when the crowds and day-trippers have long since left.
Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo (Campo San Zanipolo), Venice
No Venice squares other than San Marco are graced with the name ‘Piazza’: the others are called ‘campo’, meaning field. For centuries many of them served an agricultural purpose, where local would grow vegetables. But it’s very difficult to imagine this graceful monumental square being used as the local allotments.
Known in the venetian dialect as Campo San Zanipolo, it’s named after the Basilica of Giovanni and Paolo. The vast brick church is named after two obscure early martyrs, not the more famous Apostles. It’s one of the most impressive churches in Venice and the main Dominican church in the city. It’s also the burial place of 25 Doges of the Venetian Republic.
The Venetian square is also famous for its equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, a Venetian military commander. It’s partly modelled on Donatello’s Gattamelata statue outside the Basilica of St Anthony in Padua.
At right angles to the church, the elaborate marble former Scuola Grande di San Marco was home to a confraternity of wealthy Venetians. It’s now the façade of the main Venice Hospital. As the water taxi driver who took one of our friends there said, ’’But this is Venice.’’
Piazza Venezia Rome
This famous Piazza is by far the busiest of our squares in Italy. When I look at these photos of the Piazza that I shot a few years ago, I can still hear the noise of the traffic reverberating in my eardrums.
This famous square in Rome is not one for your gentle evening stroll. It’s one of the main traffic junctions in the centre of Rome, with several lanes of traffic converging from three directions.
It’s named after the Palazzo Venezia, which until the late 18th century was used as the embassy of the Venetian Republic in Rome. It now serves as a Museum.
The square is dominated by the gigantic Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, who helped bring about the Unification of Italy in the 19th century. It has several other names, including the Vittoriano and the Altare della Patria or Altar of the Fatherland. A rather less complimentary nickname – and my favourite name for it – is the Typewriter, which it also resembles!
Piazza del Duomo, Ortigia, Siracusa
For me, this is the most beautiful square in Italy, even Europe. It’s the Cathedral Square on Ortigia, the historic island heart of Siracusa (Syracuse) in south-east Sicily.
Like many Italian piazzas, it’s not exactly square in shape, more a slightly wonky oblong. It’s a gorgeous public space, the focal point of which is the ancient Duomo, or Cathedral. Walk to the northern end of the square and you’ll see the pillars of an ancient Greek temple helping prop up its walls.
But the front of the Duomo is gorgeous Sicilian Baroque, added after the devastating 1693 earthquake. We sat outside it every night for a week, guiding Our Little Man through much of the gelateria menu. We’d sip on an espresso or three while an accordionist sat a few feet from us every evening, our hearts melting a little more each time.
One of my favourite places in the world.
Prato della Valle, Padua
Prate della Valle is the largest square in Italy. It’s located at the southern end of Padua city centre, a short walk beyond the Basilica del Santo, home to the shrine of St Anthony of Padua.
The Prato – its name means ‘meadow in the valley’ – is a vast open area, part of which is on an island surrounded by a canal. The canal is lined by two rows of statues, including the likes of Petrarch and Galileo.
Padua is one of the most underrated cities in Europe, and for me, this square confirmed this. After a long day uncovering more and more treasures, I finally reached the Prato della Valle. After all the other riches of Padua, here was this vast square surrounded by centuries-old mansions. And in the corner, the Basilica of Santa Giustina, is one of the largest churches in Christendom.
St Peter’s Square, Vatican City – Piazza San Pietro
One of the grandest squares in Italy, St Peter’s Square is the setting for St Peter’s Basilica. Catholics regard this enormous basilica as the mother church of all Christendom. It – like the Square – is named after the Apostle Peter, who is considered the first Bishop of Rome, and therefore Pope.
Peter was traditionally buried there, making Rome one of the most important pilgrimage destinations for Christians along with Jerusalem.
The vast – everything is about scale here – Doric colonnade is designed to be an extraordinarily grand lead-up to the façade of the Basilica. The Piazza was largely designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who was one of the later architects of the Basilica.
The Egyptian Obelisk – originally from Heliopolis – was raised on the site in 1586. It is the only one of Rome’s obelisks to have remained standing.
The Piazza is very busy with visitors most days, and open-air services – sometimes conducted by the Pope – are held there.
Piazza del Campo, Siena
The Piazza del Campo in Siena is a snapshot in time of a sliding doors in history moment. The Torre del Mangia belltower was completed in 1344, at a time when Siena was one of the most powerful cities on the Italian peninsula. The Piazza del Campo, the tower and adjacent Palazzo Pubblico were a very bold and proud statement of it.
The Piazza has an unusual sense of space because of its shape. Its outline is like that of a seashell, but it also slopes down from the outside to the centre and its main building, the Palazzo Pubblico. The city hall that was is decorated with some superb frescoes, including the Allegory of Good and Bad Government series by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
That sliding doors moment? The 1340s marked the zenith of Sienese power. Siena could have grown in power, but the Black Death put paid to that. Around one-third of the city’s population died from the Black Death later that decade, and the city never really recovered. Nor did its finances.
The Piazza del Campo is famous as the venue of the Palio horse race around its perimeter. It takes place on 2nd July and 16th August each year, with representatives of the city’s main districts (contrade) racing each other. Getting a vantage point on the day can be very expensive, but it’s worth finding out about rehearsal days in advance of the main event.
See Also: The 9 Best Places To Stay In Tuscany
Piazza della Signoria, Florence
By far the largest of the piazzas in Florence, the Piazza della Signoria is named after the governing body of the Florentine Republic. The Signoria ruled from the austere Palazzo Vecchio, whose tower is one of the main features of the 600-year-old Florence skyline.
The fortress-like Palazzo Vecchio stands in contrast with some of the expressive art around the Piazza. A replica of Michelangelo’s David stands near the main entrance to the Palazzo. A few metres away, the Loggia deli Lanzi, which hosts an amazing series of statues. They include the famous Medici lions, Hercules and Nessus by Giambologna and Perseus Holding The Head of Medusa by Cellini.
The landmark Fountain of Neptune by Bartolomeo Ammannati on the other side of the square has recently been restored. It had suffered vandalism and mistreatment over many years, but is looking its best once again.
See Also: Photographing Florence – capturing the Renaissance city on camera
Piazza del Anfiteatro, Lucca
The Piazza del Anfiteatro is an elliptically shaped ‘square’ in the heart of medieval Lucca. The city is one of our favourite Tuscany hidden gems, with lots of little quirks. There’s a landmark tower with a tree growing out of the top, and this square, built around the outline of the city’s ancient amphitheatre.
The square is in a quieter part of Lucca, in the north of the walled city. Many of the buildings around the square are residential, and there are around ten restaurants and cafes – and a gelateria – around it. You’ll often see artists painting the scene too.
Like the rest of Lucca, it’s quiet, understated and just plain beautiful.
Piazza della Rotonda, Rome
This intimate piazza is one of the most famous squares in Rome, and in our opinion the most beautiful in the city. Its name comes from Santa Maria Rotonda, the name sometimes used for the Pantheon on the the south side of the square.
The Pantheon is the best-preserved ancient building in Rome (and the most beautiful), believed to date from the 2nd century AD. It was used as a church from 609 AD onwards. The square outside it has a much shorter history.
The Piazza was occupied by small shops until the 15th century when it was cleared by Pope Eugenius IV. The Fontana del Pantheon was added by Giacomo della Porta around 1575, and the obelisk was placed on it in the early 18th century.
19th century English traveller Charlotte Anne Eaton was not terribly impressed with the ‘congregated filth of every description’ of the long-gone vegetable market. She might not have been too fussed on some of the mediocre menu turistico deals offered by some of the restaurants around the square.
But surely she would have found some solace in a gelato from the Cremeria Monteforte, enjoying the much more salubrious modern view of the Piazza as the lights are turned on the Pantheon for the night.
Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa
Also called the Campo dei Miracoli, the Field of Miracles, this square is home to one of the most remarkable ensemble of buildings in Europe, and perhaps the world.
When the Duomo, Baptistery and Campanile were built around 900 years ago, Pisa was one of the strongest naval powers in the Mediterranean. The arts in the Pisan Republic flourished, and they even developed their own unique slant on the architecture of the time, Pisan Romanesque. The Piazza dei Miracoli is its ultimate showcase.
Most people visit to see one of the most famous landmarks in Italy, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Campanile was built separately from the Cathedral or Duomo, in the corner of the Piazza. The ground on which it was built proved unstable, hence it’s been leaning 4 degrees out of the perpendicular for centuries.
Most visitors to Pisa stop by to see the Leaning Tower, take cheesy photos of each other and head off on their way. The milling crowds don’t help, nor do the blatant rip-off mediocre restaurants close by.
But stick with it. Take time to explore the treasures of the Piazza dei Miracoli, including the sumptuous cathedral interior and stunning monumental Camposanto cemetery. It’s definitely worth spending one day in Pisa out of your Italy itinerary, and you could easily spend a few hours of it in this amazing square.
Piazza Nettuno and Piazza Maggiore, Bologna
These two adjoining squares are the monumental heart of Bologna, the red-brick beauty of the Emilia-Romagna region.
Many of the city’s sights are concentrated around these squares. The Fontana di Nettuno was designed by Sicilian architect Tommaso Laureti, and the statue was the work of Giambologna.
The squares are surrounded by stunning medieval buildings. The vast Basilica of San Petronio dominates the south side of the Piazza Maggiore, its façade unfinished. However a competition was held in 2017 for designs to complete it. Inside, the Basilica has a famous meridian line, along which the sun shines at local time midday (there is also a famous one in Old Town Square Prague).
The medieval Palazzo d’Accursio, on the west side of the squares, is home to the Museo Morandi, a collection of Giorgio Morandi’s workd. It is also home to the Bologna city library, the Biblioteca Salaborsa, which opened there in 2001.
You can also climb the Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower) for an outstanding view of Piazza Maggiore. Early afternoon is the best time to visit if you’re planning to photograph the views.
Piazza del Duomo, Milan
The Piazza del Duomo – Square of the Cathedral – is the architectural and social heart of Milan. It’s a stunning square, mainly because of the façade of Milan’s Gothic Cathedral, the symbol of the city and one of the most spectacular Gothic churches in Europe.
The square is also one of the entrance points for the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the ornate 19th century shopping arcade. Like the Piazza del Duomo, it’s one of the most popular meeting points in Milan. We particularly love the glass roof and dome, which gives it a light, airy feel, even on the dullest of days. Follow the Galleria through to its northern doorway, which leads you onto Piazza della Scala, and Milan’s world-famous La Scala opera house.
The Duomo looks especially beautiful at dusk, when its forest of pinnacles and spires is subtly floodlit.
Piazza Navona, Rome
Piazza Navona in Rome is, like the Amphitheatre Square in Lucca, shaped by its past function. The space was originally the Stadium of Domitian, and in the late 15th century it was used as a market.
Things changed dramatically during the pontificate of Innocent X in the mid-17th century. It was transformed into a monumental Baroque square, with Innocent’s family pad, the Palazzo Pamphili, built on one side.
The square’s focal point is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) which was sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1651. It stands outside the Baroque church of Sant’Agnese in Agone (St Agnes In Agony). She was martyred in the early 4th century AD, and a skull purportedly hers is kept in a shrine in the church.
Piazza delle Erbe, Padua
The Piazza delle Erbe (‘Square of Herbs’) forms part of Padua’s central market area, which has been operating since medieval times.
On most days of the week the square is busy with market stalls. This is also the case for the Piazza della Frutta (‘Square of Fruits’), located the other side of the Palazzo della Ragione (pictured). I shot this photo on a Sunday morning, when the market isn’t held.
One of the best things to do in Padua is visiting the Palazzo, which is also known as Il Salone. The ground floor is still used as market space, over 800 years after it was built. The Great Hall – Salone – upstairs once served as law courts. It is a staggering 81 metres long, and covered in frescoes. It’s part of the Padua frescoes World Heritage Site, along with Giotto’s fresco cycle in the nearby Cappella degli Scrovegni.
David Angel is a Welsh, photographer, writer and historian who has been travelling and photographing Europe for over 30 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, Condé Nast Traveller, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.
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Want to explore further? Take a look at our Italy Travel Guide.