The Most Cherished Italian Space: The Piazza

Jul 15, 2011

In this guest blog, Silvia Bascelli explores the role of the piazza in Italian life.


La Piazza

The Town Square

by Silvia Bascelli

There is a very famous film starring Totò, a comic genius of the fifties (un genio comico degli anni cinquanta), called  Totò, Peppino e la malafemmina  (this is a Neapolitan word for a loose or disreputable woman). Totò and his brother Peppino leave their tiny village (paesino) in Campania and go to Milan in search of a nephew (nipote) of whom they have lost track (perso le tracce).They find themselves in the piazza of the Duomo (cathedral) but are uncertain about what to do because they don’t know his address.

At this point Totò says to his brother: "Aspettiamo qua. Qua è la piazza e qua deve passare." (Let’s wait here. Here is the piazza and here he must pass.”) They assume that Milan is the same as their little town, and all of its residents (abitanti) pass every day through the piazza in front of the church.

This episode, which make me die laughing (mi fa morire dal ridere) every time that I think of it, is emblematic of the role of the piazza in the collective life of Italians (la vita collettiva degli italiani): It is the obligatory intersection (il crocevia obbligatorio), the point of daily meeting (il punto di incontro quotidiano), the living room (il salotto), the market (il mercato), the political stage (il palcoscenico politico), the place of religious rites (il luogo dei riti religiosi).

There is no Italian village or city that doesn’t have its piazze, with symbols of the heritage of the common life of its citizens (la vita comune dei suoi cittadini). This widespread sense of the piazza as a place for all social activities may be one of the most crucial differences from the urban layout of American cities.    

In small towns the piazza is generally located in front of the church (davanti alla chiesa) but in the grand cities there are dozens and dozens (decine e decine) of piazze— places of beauty and peace where you gladly stop to have a coffee (prendere un caffè).

Without doubt (indubbiamente) the most beautiful and famous (le più belle e famose) piazze are in Rome. Who doesn’t know Piazza Navona or Piazza di Spagna? But the loveliest, in my view (a mio avviso), is the Piazza del Campidoglio (above), designed by Michelangelo. There is a perfection in this space and in the surrounding palazzi that gives great peace to the spirit (regalare una grande pace dell'anima).

Among the famous piazze in other cities in Italy are Piazza San Marco in Venice; Piazza del Campo in Siena, Piazza della Signoria in Florence, etc. But there are so many other piazze, perhaps less famous, with which I am enamored (di cui sono innamorata). Piazza del Duomo in Lecce, Piazza dell'Anfiteatro jn Lucca,  Prato della Valle in Padova and Piazza Ducale in Vigevano.  

One is truly more beautiful than the other (una più bella dell'altra). It is impossible to cite them all. They are for you to discover (da scoprire).

Words and Expressions

piazza d’armi — parade ground

piazza del mercato — market place

piazzale — large square

piazzetta — small piazza

Click below for a tribute to Piazza Grande in Bologna:


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