Basic facts about the Spanish Steps in Rome
The Spanish Steps (Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti) is an architectural monument in Rome, Italy (Rione IV). It consists of 135 steps, connecting the church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti (at the top) with Piazza di Spagna (“Spanish Square”) at the bottom.The Spanish Steps were designed by Francesco de Sanctis and Alessandro Specchi. The stairway was built between 1723 and 1725. The approximate length of the stairs is 80 meters (262 feet), the width equals 50 meters (164 feet). The height difference is 23 meters (75 feet).
Why should you visit the Spanish Steps?
The Spanish Steps may not be as spectacular as the Trevi Fountain, but any tourist who has visited Rome will be inevitably asked, “Did you go to the stairs?” If simply following the standard itinerary is not enough for you, consider that the Spanish steps are rather old and have been a significant part of Roman city architecture since the early 18th century. Scaling the steps up or down (or both) is a small achievement in itself. You might actually impress your smartwatch for once. The panoramic view from the top of the steps is a great opportunity for travel photos. Finally, the Spanish Steps are a traditional place of meetings and therefore people watching. You should also consider that marble stones that have seen so much use in the last three hundred years are becoming increasingly more protected by the authorities. It is now technically illegal to sit on the steps or eat while standing on them. Chances are, before too long public use of the Spanish Steps will be restricted. Do it while you can!
How to get here?
The easiest way to get to the Spanish Steps is to take the metro (subway). The station you need is called Spagna and it is located directly near the monument. The Spanish Steps are also within walking distance from other popular sights in Rome, including the Trevi Fountain (less than a 10 minute walk along Via della Stamperia).
How to best enjoy your visit?
The Spanish Steps are an extremely crowded place. If you are not comfortable with that, plan to enjoy them from a distance. The fountain at the bottom of the steps is a good vantage point. As you walk up or down the steps remember that you are not just observing a Unesco protected cultural site, you are on it. Be respectful, don’t sit on the steps and don’t eat there. Rolling suitcases is also prohibited, as well as using baby carriages. The fines for violating these rules can be as high as 400 euros.
Be sure to know what might interest you in the area directly adjacent to the Spanish Steps.For English-speaking folks, the Keats-Shelly house is an important attraction.
Spanish Steps elevator
If you need to get to the top of the stairs but for some reason don’t want or can’t walk up the steps there is an elevator. Here is how to find it. As you are facing the staircase, head to your left where you will see the the Spagna subway station. At the beginning of the tunnel that leads to the platform there are two elevators.
Azaleas on the Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps are never more beautiful than in the spring when they are decorated with azaleas. These flowers are mostly pink and white. This fragrant spectacle should not be a problem if you have seasonal allergies. Azaleas depend on insects for pollination and do not release pollen into the air. However, they are technically poisonous to humans, so don’t get too close to these flowers.
Tips for taking photos of the Spanish Steps
Apart from some inevitable selfies, be sure to climb to the top of the steps to capture some panoramas. There will be people in your way if you try to take a picture of the entire monument, but there are many opportunities for great closeups of architectural detail. Just be prepared for a rugged look, because despite constant efforts to restore the steps they get a lot of use. You might as well highlight the worn steps and the balustrade to show their character. Black and white with high contrasts may be the best way to finalize these images. Play with shot exposure at the fountain, trying to freeze water or make it silky smooth instead (use a monopod).
History of the Spanish Steps
The French connection
The very creation of the Spanish Steps was dictated by function, aesthetics and prestige. The church at the top of the hill has had traditional ties with France ever since it was first built in the 16th century. At the same time, the square at the bottom of the steps has been known as the location of the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See. The royal families of France and Spain were linked by dynastic marriages and remained strongly allied as a result. Étienne Gueffier (1573 – 1660), a French diplomat who served as his king’s ambassador in Rome from 1623 until his death, bequeathed a large sub of money (20,000 scudi, to be precise) which was to be used for construction of a monumental set of stairs at this location. For a variety of reasons it took many decades for Gueffier’s wish to become reality. During the reign of Pope Clement XI, a contest was held and the winning design by Francesco de Sanctis (1679 – 1731) was realized in stone by 1725.
While the English term “Spanish steps” is well understood, the actual name used by Italians is Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti, making a reference to the church at the top of the stairs. Similarly, the French languages uses the same term Escalier de la Trinité-des-Monts.