Villa Patrizi was built by Cardinal Giovanni Patrizi and his two brothers in 1717; according to Giuseppe Vasi, the author of this 1761 etching, it was designed by the Patrizi themselves, but art historians believe they were advised by Sebastiano Cipriani, a minor architect. The casino was situated on a small hill along Via Nomentana very near Porta Pia and it enjoyed a commanding view.
J. W. Goethe wrote in his diary: I went to Villa Patrizi to see the sunset and enjoy the fresh air (July 24, 1787).
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Main entrance; 2) First Terrace; 3) Houses of the servants; 4) "Cordonata", the carriage access to the villa. The coloured 1924 small map shows: 5) Villa Torlonia; 6) Villa Massimo; 7) Villa Paganini.
The view in June 2009
Villa Patrizi, similar to Villa Ludovisi
and Villa Peretti was affected by the expansion of the city after the 1870 annexation of Rome to the Kingdom of Italy; in 1884 Marquis Francesco Patrizi started to sell parcels of the land surrounding the main casino, which eventually was demolished in 1911 to make room for the Ministry of Transportation and the headquarters of the Italian Railways.
In 1932 a monument was erected in the square between Porta Pia and the new buildings; it was designed by Paolo Morbiducci and it celebrates the Bersaglieri, the light infantry corps who entered Rome on September 20, 1870 through a breach in the walls near Porta Pia.
Main casino (northern side)
This villa stands about a mile
outside the porta Pia on the Nomentan way, and was purchased by the father of the present prince Torlonia,
who has expended very considerable sums on its embellishment. The casino stands on an
elevated platform reached from the opposite area by a
flight of steps. It is adorned at the extremities by Doric porticos: the second range of the front is decorated
with Ionic columns and pilasters; and in the tympanum
is an altorilievo of the return of Bacchus from the conquest of India, by Rinaldo Rinaldi.
Rev. Jeremiah Donovan - Rome Ancient and Modern - Volume III - 1843
At the beginning of the XIXth century Giovanni Torlonia, son of a French merchant, founded a bank in Rome, which soon grew in importance with the favour of the French administration; with the money earned through banking operations he bought large estates in the Roman countryside; in 1809 he was appointed Marquis of Roma Vecchia, the name given at the time to Villa dei Quintili, because he had bought almost all the farms surrounding that site along Via Appia Antica, including Valle della Caffarella. A few years earlier he had bought a villa along Via Nomentana from the Colonna; the casino was enlarged in two steps: by Luigi Valadier at the time of the acquisition and in 1842 by Giovan Battista Caretti who added the small semicircular porticoes and the imposing loggia. Caretti, from Novara, is known only for his activity at Villa Torlonia and at Palazzo Bolognetti Torlonia.
In describing the villas or country seats about Rome we shall confine ourselves to such as may be supposed to interest the English reader. Donovan
The Villa Torlonia, about a mile beyond the Porta Pia, belongs to the great banker who taxes all the world that comes to Rome. The casino is a Grecian structure of some architectural pretension, but with the appearance of having been hastily and slightly built. The interior, with a singular disregard of the requisitions of a Roman climate, is cut up into a multitude of small, low rooms, which are lavishly adorned with costly marbles and mosaics, and with frescoes which are not exactly good, but undoubtedly the best that money can buy. Compared with the noble apartments, the spacious corridors, and the stately terraces of the Villa Albani, the general effect is poor and mean.
George Stillman Hillard - Six Months in Italy in ca 1847-1848
Beyond Villa Patrizi is the ridiculous Villa Torlonia (shown with an order on Wednesdays from 11 to 4, but not worth seeing), sprinkled with mock ruins.
Augustus J. C. Hare - Walks in Rome - 1875
Rev. Donovan wrote his guide immediately after the redesign of the casino and he thought that Villa Torlonia would have become a "must see" for English travellers, but he was wrong.
Bathroom: paintings recalling those of Raphael at La Farnesina
The ground floor is distributed into twelve rooms and a ball room. Its small eliptical atrium is adorned with twelve marble columns. The walls of the first room to the left are faced with scajuola (fake marble): its floor consists of marble compartments; and its cieling is adorned with gilt stuccos. The bath-room follows, the walls and cieling of which are adorned with arabesques and paintings of Venuses, nymphs, Europa on the bull, Leda, Calisto in the bath of Diana, etc., all by Caretti. The library comes next , the cieling of which is decorated with basreliefs on golden grounds, by Caretti; and in its centre is a painting by the Cav. Paoletti, representing Dante being conducted to Limbo by Virgil, with Homer, Horace, Ovid and Lucan. The next is a sort of rustic chamber, painted to resemble a cottage; and on the cieling are children with wreaths of flowers, by Delfrate. The next room and that at the opposite side of the portico have their cielings painted in imitation reliefs: their floors are of marble. Donovan
(left) Hall of Psyche: detail of the ceiling portraying Jupiter, Eros, Psyche and Mercury; (right) Hall of
the Italian poets and artists: portrait of Michelangelo
The next small room is called the hall of Psyche, from the paintings on its walls, by Paoletti, relating to that symbolical personage, and reminds one of some rooms in Pompeii. The succeeding room is called the hall of the Italian poets and artists, from their portraits on its frieze and cieling, by Paoletti. Its floor is decorated with mosaics: its walls are adorned with Gothic architectural designs and its stained window is by Bertini of Milan. The adjoining cabinet has its walls painted black; and is adorned with small paintings in imitation of those in Pompeii. On its frieze are landscapes; and on its cieling pretty arabesques. Donovan
enter the ball-room, which has two orchestras, raised
on marble Corinthian columns and pilasters, with friezes richly decorated with Bacchants and children in dancing movements. On the cieling and lateral lunettes are
mythological paintings relating to Cupid, by Messabo,
Tocetti and Coghetti. In the large lunette opposite the
principal entrance Coghetti has painted Apollo on Parnassus, encompassed by the Muses, by Virgil, Ovid,
Dante, Ariosto, Tasso, Galileo and Vittorio. On
the floor is a copy of the famous mosaic of Palestrina. Donovan
The large hall is a showy room, with marble columns and a mosaic copied from one at Palestrina, representing an inundation of the Nile. Hillard
The copy of the mosaic of Palestrina was relocated by the Torlonia to their palace in Piazza Scossacavalli.
Hall of Bacchus
The stairs leading up to the first floor consists of white marble steps, and a beautiful gilt metal balustrade by Filippo Ghirlanda. They conduct to an oblong hall, the walls of which are covered with landscapes, and on the cieling of which are three small paintings of Aurora, Day and Night, by the Cav. Trebalza. It opens on a beautiful balcony, floored with marbles, adorned with ten marble Ionic columns, and commanding a good view of the grounds and of the distant amphitheatre of hills. The hall of Bacchus, to the left of the oblong hall, as we return, is octangular and the paintings representing Bacchus and his orgies are by the Cav. Podesti. The floor is adorned with handsome mosaics; and the chimney-piece is decorated with exquisite little mosaics. The Gothic chamber, which follows, has its walls covered with perspectives by Caretti and on its cieling are two small paintings, relating to Rinaldo and Armida, as described by Tasso, both by Paoletti. The next small room is called il gabinetto di Venere, from the Venus, on its cieling, stepping out of the bath and attended by Amorini, by Cochetti. Donovan
One of the bedrooms
The two next rooms are bed-rooms, the walls of which are covered with painted hangings and on the cielings are small paintings, by Paoletti. The balcony between both rooms commands a view of the other obelisk of the theatre and of an intervening small lake. The frieze of the next cabinet is decorated with animals by Fioroni, who also painted the Baccanti on its cieling. Donovan
The Egyptian room is decorated with Egyptian architectural designs, by Caretti, and with historical paintings of the vicissitudes of Cleopatra, by Fioroni; and to her also relate the two mosaics on the floor. Her interview with Antony on the frieze of the chimney-piece, is sculptured by Rinaldi. Donovan
Hall of Alexander
The hall of Alexander is eliptical, and is so called from its paintings relating to the hero of Macedon, by Coghetti. Its niches, which are separated by composite pilasters, are adorned with statues of Apollo and the Muses, by several modern artists: the mosaics on its floor are by Seni; and the relief on its frieze, representing the Triumphal entry of Alexander into Babylon, is by the late Tholwaldsen. Donovan
Both obelisks, were cut from the
Simplon in Piedmont, conveyed on rafts along the Po
to the gulph of Venice, where they were transferred
to a small vessel, by which they were brought to Fiumicino, ascended the Tiber, entered the Anio as far
as the vicinity of the Nomentan bridge, whence the vessels and their cargo were conveyed on terra firma by
rollers and pulleys to this villa, where they were erected in 1842. Their eight eulogistic Latin inscriptions
were composed by my friend Father Ungarelli, as were
also their versions in hieroglyphics. Donovan
The Torlonia were not affected by the end of the French occupation of Rome; two sons of Giovanni Torlonia married members of the Roman aristocracy (Marino: Anna Sforza Cesarini; Alessandro: Teresa Colonna Doria) and the Torlonia became a very prominent Roman family; Pope Gregory XVI personally attended the celebrations for the erection of two modern obelisks at their villa; their transportation was compared to those of the Egyptian obelisks brought to Rome by the emperors. The journey was very similar to that of the columns of white granite which were employed for the reconstruction of S. Paolo fuori le Mura.
(left) Fake ruins similar to those of Tempio di Venere e Roma; (right) relief by Vincenzo Gajassi on a fake Temple to Saturn
On entering the grounds we observe to the
left a ruin in imitation of the colosseum, after which
come in succession the billiard room, preceded by a
portico of eight columns of cipollino, and crowned
with ancient busts; an imitation of the temple of Venus and Rome; a temple of Saturn with a portico of
granite columns of the Doric order, in the tympanum
of which is an appropriate altorilievo, by Gajassi, of Saturn, who is seated on his throne, wearing a crown of
pinebranch, a serpent, the symbol of eternity at his
feet, and a crouching lion near him, the emblem of
his resistless strength: on one side of the relief are figures symbolical of winter and spring; and the remaining figures are intended to allegorise the influence of
Time. After the temple of Saturn comes a fountain. To
the right we meet an imitation of a ruined temple of
Minerva; an ancient sarcophagus; an amphitheatre; and
the coffee-house. Donovan
In the grounds, which are not very extensive, are a great variety of objects, - an artificial ruin, two granite obelisks, a column, fountains, an amphitheatre, a Gothic stable, and a grotto with artificial stalactites. Wealth has been lavished with the most reckless profusion, but the expenditures of good taste have been upon a very parsimonious scale. There is a want of harmony, fitness, and proportion. Discordant objects are huddled together, as in the landscapes of a china teacup; and the whole effort suggests the combination of the wealth of a millionaire and the tastes of a cockney. Hillard
In line with the fashion of the time, the gardens were embellished with a series of fake ruins, which in some cases resembled actual ruins of Ancient Rome; the majority of these additions were made by Prince Alessandro Torlonia. Some of them, e.g. the amphitheatre, were demolished in 1910 when Via Nomentana was enlarged.
Casino dei Principi, aka Coffee-House: (left) a view of Naples; (right) floor mosaic with the heraldic symbol of the Torlonia; the image used as background for this page shows a sphinx which decorates its entrance
Opposite the entrance to the coffee-house stands a
a copy of Canova's danzatrice, by Bienaimè. (..) First room. - The floor of this dining
room consists of coloured marbles and modern mosaics:
the walls are covered with views of Naples, by Caretti and on the cieling are the three Graces, by the Cav. Carta. The second room is called a camera di societa
or drawing room: its floor is adorned with numerous
mosaics, by Carlo Seni; and the walls and cieling are
adorned with various allegorical figures, Aurora, the
Hours etc. , by Cochetti. The floor of the third room consists of marble compartments; the walls are covered
with views of the principal cities of Greece in their present dilapidated condition, painted by Caretti. Donovan
The front of the Moorish hot-house consists of a Moorish arch, surmounted by a pediment with golden stars in relief on a blue ground, and pierced by an eliptical window, the cast metal of which forms a Cufic cypher, expressing "Prince D. Alexander and the most noble Teresa Torlonia." The interior of the edifice corresponds in style with the exterior; and the hot-beds range along its walls. The exterior side of the edifice has seven windows, divided by pillars of Alban stone, sculptured with painted Moorish ornaments and the lateral doorway is surmounted with another Cufic cypher, to this effect: "May the blessing of God descend on prince Alexander Torlonia powerful in God." Donovan
(left) Interior of the Moorish Hot-House; (right) Grotto and Moorish Tower
From the Moorish hot-house we proceed to the grotto and Moorish tower. The grotto, planned by Japelli, is inscribed to the Nimphae loci: in it are two small lakes; and from its artificial rocks hang numerous stalactites. From it stairs lead up to the Moorish tower, the walls of which are painted yellow. It is lighted by small painted Moorish windows; contains a kitchen; an hexagonal Moorish room, richly decorated with gilt and silvered stuccos; and is adorned with columns covered with arabesques. Outside each window are leaden vases with sportive fish, crowned with oriental plants. This room is so contrived as that a table, laid and covered with eatables in the kitchen beneath, ascends as if by magic to occupy its centre. Donovan
Having traversed the
grotto we soon meet to our right the Swiss cottage,
designed by Japelli, the ground floor of which is divided into a sitting room, a stable, and a kitchen with a
central, sunken fire-place. Rude wooden stairs lead up
to its second floor, which contains four chambers, painted to imitate wood, fastened by nails. Donovan
One of the minor buildings had the shape of a Swiss chalet, but at the beginning of the XXth century it was given a complex medieval appearance; it was decorated with fine stained glass windows and it now houses a small museum dedicated to this kind of decorative art.
We now descend to visit the other objects of interest scattered through the grounds, among which the
first that we meet is the theatre, which, on this side,
presents a projecting semicircle, with a concentric
portico decorated with Ionic, travertin columns, the arcades of which open on as many niches, which are occupied by ancient busts. The front forms a receding semicircle, preceded by a fountain, and serving as a hot-house, the semicircular entablature of which is sustained
by travertin columns. The interior of the theatre presents the usual form of such edifices, and is rich in gilding and stuccos: its semicircular vaulted extremity is
lighted, like the Pantheon, by a circular window. Beyond
the theatre is the Campo Chiuso or field of tournaments,
ia form of a parallelogram with curve angles, all of stone
coloured as wood to indicate its temporary erection. Donovan
In a building in the garden is a theatre, quite pretty and tasteful in its arrangements, and large enough to accommodate an audience of eight hundred or a thousand persons. Hillard
In 1866 Alessandro Torlonia added Villa Albani to the family properties and with it the remaining part of the large collection of antiquities gathered in the XVIIIth century by Cardinal Alessandro Albani. Other ancient statues were acquired by marriages or bought in the antiquarian market so that the Torlonia had a collection of antiquities larger than those of the other noble families which they put on display in a private museum near Porta Settimiana. Alessandro Torlonia smoothly managed the transition from the Papal State to the Kingdom of Italy; in 1875 he was appointed Principe del Fucino by King Victor Emmanuel II. Leopoldo, another member of the Torlonia family was Mayor of Rome in 1887 and later on he became a Member of Parliament.
In 1923 the Torlonia leased their villa for a nominal fee to Benito Mussolini, Italian Prime Minister and leader of the Fascist Party; he lived there with his family until the fall of his regime in July 1943; bearing this in mind, in 1944 the Allies established their headquarters in Villa Torlonia; after a long period of abandonment and endless legal disputes, in 1979 the villa was acquired by the City of Rome and it is now open to the public. The costly restoration of its buildings required more than 40 years.
(left) Former casino of Villa Massimo; (right) main alley of modern Villa Massimo, which houses the German Academy in Rome
Villa Massimo was located to the north of Villa Torlonia; similar to Villa Patrizi part of it was divided up in the late XIXth century; in 1910 the remaining property was split into two sections. One of them is still known as Villa Massimo, but it was redesigned around a new neo-Renaissance casino which houses the German Academy in Rome. The other section was eventually parcelled out; the original casino of Villa Massimo can still be seen in Via di Villa Ricotti. The Massimo had other villas which also were sold and developed e.g. that near S. Giovanni in Laterano.
(left) Entrance and a former building of Villa Paganini; (right) fountain of the time of Pope Innocent X; (inset) inscription saying how Pope Sixtus V and his successors Pope Gregory XIV and Pope Clement VIII allowed the owners of the villa to receive some water from Acqua Felice
Villa Paganini, which is named after Roberto Paganini, a politician and businessman who bought it in 1888, once belonged to Cardinal Giulio Alberoni, who was Prime Minister of the King of Spain in 1714-1719. He bought and embellished an existing villa which is now almost entirely lost apart from a small section of the garden along Via Nomentana; a minor building houses a private school.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Tra i pregi, che ha questo nobilissimo Casino, è molto particolare quello di avervi alloggiato la notte de' 3. di Novembre dell'anno 1744. il Re delle due Sicilie, oggi invittissimo Monarca delle Spagne.