These days, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many Romans living in stand-alone houses unless you travel outside of the city into the smaller country towns. However, a few hundred years ago it wasn’t so unusual to see a grand villa in the city centre. Today, many of these beautiful structures still exist and lucky for us most of them are still accessible to the public! They all have an interesting story behind them, and many of them house some stunning works of art. You can find many of these villas in the city’s most beautiful parks, so if you’re looking for a peaceful city escape then look no further than Rome’s villas. While many of the city’s villas are now closed to the public, some have been converted into museums. Here are our recommendations;
Undoubtedly, the most famous villa in Rome, Villa Borghese is known for its gorgeous and expansive park as well as its villa-turned-museum; Galleria Borghese. The villa and surrounding park are named for the Borghese family, a prominent noble family hailing from Siena who relocated to Rome in the 16th century.
The family had a close connection to the Catholic Church and it was Scipione Borghese, a Cardinal, who commissioned Villa Borghese in 1613. He originally used it as a country villa (at the time it was on the outskirts of the city), but it would eventually house his impressive art collection consisting of Roman, Renaissance and Baroque art, which he was able to amass using the wealth gleaned from his powerful position in the Vatican.
Not only did the Cardinal purchase and commision works by many renowned Italian artists like Caravaggio, Titan and Raphael, he also took a great interest in the up and coming young sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. In fact, many of the Bernini sculptures you see today are displayed in the spaces originally intended for them. Although some of the original pieces were sold to France when the Italian government took control of the property in 1902 most of the works remain, including the most stunning pieces by Bernini. A visit to this extraordinary villa to admire these incredible works of art is a must when in Rome!
Opening Hours: From Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 7pm (no entry after 5pm)
For more information on Villa Borghese visit the website.
Sitting on Monte Pincio, just above the Spanish Steps, Villa Medici was the site of antique ruins and a half-finished palace when the illustrious Medici family purchased the property in 1576. It was Ferdinando de’ Medici, a Cardinal, who saw its potential and commisioned the Florentine architect, Bartolomeo Ammanati to build a villa worthy of the Medici family.
Like his contemporary, Scipione Borghese, Medici was a patron of the arts and his vision for the villa was as a museum which incorporated both the indoor and outdoor spaces. Inside the villa, he created a gallery to house his most prized antiquities and outside he designed the gardens to act as an open-air museum.
In 1803, after years of being in the Medici family, the villa underwent a radical change when it was sold to France and became the site of the French Acadamy. Today, the villa still receives French artists in residence as well as housing an art collection and changing exhibitions.
Opening Hours: From Tuesday to Sunday, tours in English, Italian and French from 10am-4pm.
Tickets: €12 full price, €6 reduced.
For more information on Villa Medici and tours and tickets click here.
Sitting just off via Nomentana, Villa Torlonia is a relatively well-kept secret which means it is less frequented than its counterparts. It’s also the newest of Rome’s villas, built between 1802 and 1806 by Giovanni Torlonia, a famous nobleman and Vatican banker. Torlonia hired the neo-classical architect, Giuseppe Valadier, to design the villa and the surrounding gardens. Valadier created an elegant villa and furnished it with classical sculptures as well as creating symmetrical gardens.
After the death of Giovanni Torlonia, his son, Alessandro continued with plans to extend the villa and the property in the hopes of impressing his fellow nobles with grand social events. In turn, Alessandro’s son also carried out extensive works in hope of matching the splendour of the villa to his family name. Some unusual additions to the property over the years include a temple, an amphitheatre, two pink granite obelisks, a grotto, a conservatory and a Swiss cottage.
Now, the property is owned by the city of Rome and is open to the public. You can visit the grounds and the museum in the villa. The gardens are a rare surviving example of English style gardens in Rome and the museum houses many sculptures and archaeological artefacts discovered on the property.
Opening Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 9am – 7pm (last admission 45 minutes before closing
Tickets: €11 full price, €9 reduced.
For more information on Villa Torlonia, click here.
Villa Farnesina, in the neighbourhood of Trastevere, is a suburban villa built in the early 16th century for a rich banker from Siena, Agostino Chigi. The villa has been hailed a triumph of the Renaissance for both its architectural design by Baldassarre Peruzzi and its interior frescoes by the Italian masters; Raphael, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, and Giulio Romano.
Although Chigi was a banker, his real passion was the arts. He commisioned this villa as an expression of his personality and love for high culture, decorating it lavishly and surrounding himself with beauty. He brought together some of the most talented artists of his generation and they created an artistic spectacle of composition and colour and fantastical stories.
Chigi lived in the villa until his death in 1520, after which time it endured a string of different owners. The villa was finally bought by the Farnese family in 1577, for which it is named, despite being the sole vision and passion of Agosto Chigi. Now the villa is owned by the Italian state and its spectacular frescos and architectural beauty are on display to the public.
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9am – 2pm
Tickets: €6 full price, €5 reduced.
For more information on Villa Farnesina, click here.
Some other noteworthy villas in Rome are Villa Pamphilj, Villa Ada and Villa Celimontana, but unfortunately, the interior of these villas are not accessible to the public. The plus side is that they are housed in some of Rome’s most gorgeous parks, so if you would like to admire some stunning architecture in peaceful surroundings, add these villas to your list too!
For further information or a specialized private tour in Rome, contact us!
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Author: Rebecca Allison
Rebecca is an Australian writer and history lover who has been living in Rome since 2015. She loves travelling around Italy (and beyond), as well as marvelling at the many architectural and historical feats that Rome has to offer in the streets and museums.