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Italian Christmas Traditions: Piazza Navona Christmas Market


Christmas celebration in Rome has always been epic. The city is decked up in lavish decor, the streets are brightly illuminated and there are plenty of festive scenes around the corner. Every year during this time of festivity, the touristy area of Piazza Navona sparkle at night. It flaunts one of the biggest Christmas Markets in Italy that is thronged by tourists as well as locals. People from all over Rome and suburbs visit this market to take part in the Christmas festivities. It usually starts in the first week of December and the celebration continues for the next 6 weeks (between Christmas and the Epiphany). This annual market is the hub of activities during the day and it gets completely revamped at night. It is mostly open from 10 AM till the wee hours at night, especially during weekends.

The Christmas Transformation

Piazza Navona Rome, Italy

Apart from decorations and native scenes, there are several vendor stalls laden with handicrafts, clothes, gifts, sweets, and drinks. You can also witness the giant carousel and lots of Christmas balloons. Sweet treats like candies, porchetta sandwich, toffee apples and ciambella (giant doughnuts) are the main draw for the children as well as the adults. Wander around and warm yourself up with a glass of mulled wine or roasted chestnut. Look around for the Santa Claus who often stroll through the market and offer great photo opportunities especially for the kids. Another notable feature of this vibrant market is the large nativity that can be witnessed inside the straw-lined hut. Piazza Navona indeed represents the true spirit of Christmas. And visiting the Christmas Market of Piazza Navona is a tradition for many Italian families living in that region.

History of Piazza Navona


The history of Piazza Navona goes back to the reign of Emperor Domitian in the 1st century AD. It looks more like an open stadium where ancient Romans flocked to watch the games (agones). Hence, the Piazza is popularly known as Circus Agonalis. At the end of the Piazza near Via Coronary, you will get the evidence of its glorious past. However, at the end of the 15th century, the site was dedicated to the local market of Campidoglio and depicted exemplary Baroque architecture. All the credit goes to Pope Innocent X and his Baroque visions. He is the one who is responsible for the beautiful surrounding that you get to see today. His family palace of Pamphili stands tall facing the Piazza and features ancient creations and sculptures.

The two prominent structures that rest in the center are the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi and the Sant’ Agnese Church in Agone. The former sculpture was designed by the master sculptor Bernini and the later was crafted by the renowned Francesco Borromini. There are two more fountains – the Fontana del Moro in the southern end and the Fountain of Neptune in the Northern End. During this course of time, Piazza Navona hosted several events that happened to be the lifeline of Rome. Between 1652 and 1866, this area was immersed in elaborate celebrations organized by the Pamphili family. In the mid 19th century, the level of the pavement was raised and the market got moved to Campo de’ Fiori. Eventually, the bustling Christmas Market started taking place here. The Piazza is featured in several Hollywood films and novels including Dan Brown’s legendary Angels and Demons.

Befana: The Christmas Witch


Though you will find several Santa Clause figures all over the Piazza, the entire market revolves around an old witch flying on a broomstick. She is Bafana and the reason why this market ends on January 6. According to the folklore, Bafana visits the Italian kids on Epiphany Eve and fill their socks with gifts or a lump of coal depending on whether the kids are good or bad. This explains the significance of all the stockings filled with candies hanging everywhere. It is said that this old witch enters the house through the chimney. Hence she is always covered in soot. Even today, some parts of Italy consider Bafana a national icon and she has been immortalized in this Christmas Market of Piazza Navona.

Piazza Navona Christmas Market is open on Christmas Day


While most of the businesses are closed on the day of Christmas, the vendor stalls in Piazza Navona remains open. The Piazza transforms itself into a colorful Christmas Market and creates a whole new world before the eyes of the visitors. However, this market opens late in the afternoon and offer ample opportunities for a leisure stroll. A visit to this charming market should be accompanied by eating in one of the trattorias that are also open on this special occasion. The highest concentration of glittering lights can be observed after sunset when the market is running in full swing. Look around for discounted items in the stalls, try fun games with your loved ones or simply soak up the Christmas vibe. It is indeed the most magical time of the year in Italy.

The festive scenes with clowns, jugglers, and mimes are the norm. But you won’t ever expect Italian bagpipers singing folksongs in the square. The Italian Christmas traditions in Piazza Navona are deep-rooted and seems to be different from the rest of the world. As you see, this Christmas market is a culmination of Epiphany and Christmas, the sight of puppets dressed as Santa Claus and Bafana is quite obvious. Mind you, Santa Claus has gone global and he did not start the typical traditions specific to Italy. But you will find Santa Claus toys filling up the stalls in Piazza Navona. Admire the fountains, buy unique souvenirs and take beautiful pictures. It is indeed a great place to grab a beer and watch the world go by!

If you are lucky enough to spend a Christmas holiday in Italy, do check-out the Piazza Navona Christmas Market. It is important that you bring the wallet and the appetite. Contact Tour Italy Now today and get started on your Christmas plans!

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By Priscila Siano (266 Posts)

Priscila Siano is the Marketing Director of Tour Italy Now, an online tour operator specializing in Italy travel. She's a respected expert on making dream Italy vacations a reality for clients.

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