With all its cafes, restaurants, bars and shops, Piazza del Popolo may be one of the tourist hotspots of the Rome, especially as it connects to some of the main streets of the Italian capital that together form the heart of the city. However, all the lively atmosphere of the square today belies the dark history of its origin and its subsequent fate.
The legend has it that after his demise, the body of the Roman Emperor Nero was buried under an ancient walnut tree in this very site where the piazza stands now. Back at that time, the place used to be a vast forest mainly populated with poplar trees (the 'Popolo' in the name of the square does not signify 'people', as many people seem to believe; rather it comes from the Latin word 'Populus', meaning poplars).
Soon after, the place was rumored to be cursed and haunted and it was not until Pope Paschal II had the Emperor's corpse exhumed, burnt and his ashes scattered into the nearby Tiber River that the curse was believed to be lifted, almost a millennium after the death of the emperor. Further, the square was used for centuries as the main site for public executions, the last of them having taken place in 1826.