"Frascati is a paradise" J. W. Goethe - Italian Journey - September 12, 1787
The name of the town derives from the rural huts made with tree branches (It. frasca) built by the inhabitants of Tuscolo, when their town was destroyed by the Romans in 1191. Medieval Tuscolo stood on the site of ancient Tusculum, which according to tradition was founded by Telegonus, son of Ulysses and Circe.
Frascati became an important town in the second half of the XVIth century after Alessandro Ruffini, a prelate of the papal court, and Cardinal Marco Sittico Altemps, nephew of Pope Pius IV, built villas at Frascati or between the town and Monte Porzio Catone. Their example was followed by the most important Roman families and in 1620 there were already 14 villas around Frascati.
Cardinal Ippolito d'Este and Cardinal Alessandro Farnese preceded Ruffini and Altemps in building large villas respectively at Tivoli and Caprarola, but their selection of the location was due to the fact that they were governor of the town (d'Este) or had large fiefdoms in the area (Farnese).
The choice of Frascati as a location for summer retreats was based on other factors: a commanding view which ranged from the Apennines to the Tyrrhenian Sea, the availability of water, the woods which covered the hill behind the town and the fact that Cicero and other famous ancient Romans had their villas near Tusculum. Spending the villeggiatura at Frascati or in nearby locations became customary for the wealthiest families and for the popes too, who still spend the summer at Castelgandolfo.
Tusculum was located at the top of the hill behind Frascati. It was linked to Rome by a road and it gave its name to a part of the Alban hills. The villas built by the cardinals are collectively known as Ville Tuscolane and they were in part embellished with marbles and columns found at Tusculum or in the ancient villas.
Vatican Museums: (left) Dionysus, found at Casal Morena, near Frascati; (right) mosaic portraying Minerva in an
astronomical context found at Villa La Rufinella
Some of the finest ancient works of art found at Frascati are housed in the museums of Rome.
Rocca di Frascati (Bishop's Palace) and in the inset coat of arms of Cardinal Guillaume d'Estouteville
The fortifications of Frascati were relatively minor, although the town was surrounded by walls. Its defence was mainly based on a small fortress controlling the road from Rome. It was built by Cardinal Guillaume d'Estouteville, perhaps the richest cardinal of his time and the Dean of the Sacred College for more than twenty years (1461-83). It was turned into the residence of the bishops by Pope Paul III. Frascati (Tusculum) was one of the six suburbicarian dioceses of Rome and it was assigned to one of the most senior cardinals.
(left) Interior of the Bishop's Palace; (centre) bell tower of S. Rocco; (right) 1693 monument bearing the heraldic symbols (three pots)
of Pope Innocent XII and those of Carlo Colonna, Governor of Frascati
(a "cipollino" column) in the former market square
In the summer of 1943 General Albert Kesselring, commander of the German troops in Italy established his headquarters at Villa Falconieri near Frascati. This led to the town being heavy bombed in September by the Allies. Most of the medieval quarter behind the fortress was destroyed with the exception of the bell tower of S. Rocco dated 1305.
Pope Innocent XII promoted the erection of a large cathedral which was completed in time for the Holy Year 1700 (the bell towers are a later addition). It is interesting to note the use of a local dark volcanic stone (pietra sperone) to highlight the structure of the building; the use of dark stones can be seen in other churches near Frascati (e.g. the Cathedral of Albano) and in other parts of Latium (e.g. at Gradoli). The Cathedral was hit by bombs and its interior was almost completely destroyed, but the façade was not damaged. It was designed by Girolamo Fontana, nephew of Carlo Fontana, the most important Roman architect at the end of the XVIIth century.
(left) Main fountain; (right) coat of arms of Frascati and inscription on a previous fountain
The square in front of the Cathedral was embellished by a fountain in style with the façade and similar to a Roman nymphaeum. It incorporated a 1619 inscription which celebrated the completion of two aqueducts built by Pope Clement VIII Aldobrandini and Pope Paul V Borghese to provide Frascati (and the many fountains of their family villas) with an ample supply of water.
Chiesa del Gesù: (left) façade; (right) detail of its decoration
In 1693 Carlo Fontana was commissioned the enlargement of an existing Jesuit church. His project however was too expensive and the construction of the new building was postponed. The church was eventually enlarged on the basis of a project by Father Gregorio Castrichini. Similar to il Gesù in Rome and other Jesuit churches throughout the world (see that at Valletta, Malta), the façade was embellished with the head of a cherub.
(left) 1520 coat of arms of Lucrezia della Rovere previously on the portal of the old church and now in the Bishop's Palace;
(centre) Chiesa del Gesù - interior: marble altar in one of the chapels; (right) Chiesa del Gesù - interior: stucco statue and heraldic symbols of
Olimpia Aldobrandini (stars and stripes)
The Jesuit church replaced a previous one which was founded by Lucrezia Della Rovere, niece of Pope Julius II. It is believed that her beauty inspired Raphael's portrait of St. Barbara in Madonna Sistina (external link).
In line with the Jesuit tradtion of sumptuously decorating their churches, the interior of Chiesa del Gesù has many rich altars and statues. A large bequest from Olimpia Aldobrandini, the last of her family, paid for the renovation of the church.
Chiesa del Gesù: illusory domes by Andrea Pozzo and Antonio Colli
In 1685 Father Andrea Pozzo painted an illusory dome at S. Ignazio in Rome. It was meant to be replaced by an actual dome, but it met with such an appreciation that it became a permanent feature of the church. Father Pozzo was asked to paint the ceiling and the apse of the Jesuit church at Frascati. Because at the time he was busy with the decoration of Jesuitenkirche in Vienna, the execution of the paintings at Frascati was entrusted to Antonio Colli, one of his assistants (other examples of illusory paintings can be seen in a page on Baroque Ceilings).
(left) Portrait of Cardinal Henry Benedict Stuart; (centre) 1770 coat of arms of Cardinal Stuart celebrating the construction of
a seminary in a street of Frascati; the coat of arms shows both the royal crown and the cardinal's hat; (right) tomb of Charles Edward Stuart
(aka Bonnie Prince Charlie) in the Cathedral of Frascati; today the tomb contains only the "praecordia" (heart and other inner parts of the body)
Henry Benedict Stuart was born at Palazzo Muti Balestra in Rome in 1725. He was created Duke of York by his father James and Cardinal by Pope Benedict XIV in 1747. In 1761 he became Bishop of Frascati, where he spent most of his life, taking active part in the embellishment of the town. In 1788, following the death of his brother Charles Edward, Henry declared himself Henry IX of Great Britain, France and Ireland, but he never challenged the authority of King George III, by whom he received a pension in the last years of his life. Together with his father and brother he was eventually buried in S. Pietro in a monument designed by Antonio Canova.
(left) Chiesa dei Cappuccini; (right) coat of arms of Pope Gregory XIII who in 1574
allowed the Capuchin Order to establish monasteries in countries other than Italy
The neat design of the Capuchin church of Frascati offers a striking contrast with that of the Jesuits or the Cathedral. It is located in what was a thick wood on the hill behind the town. This because at the origin the order was meant for hermits and therefore all monasteries were built out of town and on high ground (in Rome too).
Ramp leading to Chiesa dei Cappuccini
Some of the images which illustrate this page were taken in February 2012, shortly after an unusually heavy snowstorm.
The image in the background of this page shows a modern fountain depicting a cask of wine, as Frascati is renowned for its white wine (more about wine in the area).
Read William Dean Howells' account of his visit to Frascati in 1908.
Move to page two: Villa Mondragone, Villa Taverna, Villa Aldobrandini and Villa Torlonia
Move to page three: Villa Lancellotti, Villa Falconieri and other villas
Next step in your tour of the Environs of Rome: Grottaferrata
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to Frascati: