Click on image to enlarge it
A traveller planning a trip in Italy often considers first the ‘famous’ places like Venice, Florence, Rome or Pompei and classic area like Tuscany’s vineyard or the seascape of Cinque Terre and Sorrento. Undeniably worth a first visit, these places lure masses of tourists while hundreds of incredible gems of art and architecture are seldom visited (even by Italians).
One of the best characteristics of the Italian peninsula is the amazing variety of landscapes. The view, territory, even the light changes every few kilometers, small towns and big towns are scattered everywhere and very few are not worth a visit. The majority of these places are many centuries old and the signs of the past are quite visible and charming. Some of these places host exceptional architectural, artistic and/or archaeological treasures. Caprarola, about one hour north of Rome, is a small, quaint, late mediaeval hill town that wouldn’t be a likely tourist destination if it weren’t for an absolutely spectacular building: the Villa Farnese.
Villa Farnese is a XVIth century massiveRenaissance architecture construction, finished in the Mannerist style, built on a five-sided plan with a cylindrical courtyard and buttresses supporting the upper floors.
In 1504, the future Farnese Pope Paul III acquired the estate, had designs made for a fortified castle by the architects Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and Baldassare Peruzzi and started its construction around 1520. The grandson of Pope Paul III, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, planned to turn the partly constructed fortified edifice into a villa by commissioning Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola to change the original plans. The works resumed in 1556 and ended around 1573.
The villa’s interiors are arranged over five floors with the main rooms located on the first floor or “piano nobile”.
Here we find the large central loggia (the Room of Hercules) that looks down over the town.
To either side of the loggia are two circular rooms: one is the Chapel, the other accommodates the principal staircase or Scala Regia, a graceful spiral of steps supported by pairs of Ionic columns rising up through three floors and frescoed by Antonio Tempesta.
The first floor level has two grand apartments symmetric in plan and completing the enclosure of the courtyard. Each has a series of five rooms which begin with the largest (a reception hall) near the loggia and proceed with increasing intimacy and decreasing size.
The gardens of the villa are as impressive as the building itself, a significant example of the Italian Renaissance garden period.
While the structure of the villa is particularly beautiful, the extensive decorations of the building are its most amazing feature.
Frescoes and stuccoes cover most of the ceilings and walls. The frescoes present mythological, religious and historical-political scenes (many related to the Farnese family), the “grotesque motifs’ frescoes are mixed with delicate stuccoes to frame the frescoed images of Gods, Saints, and people. ‘Grotesque’ describes the fantastic, bizarre and unpleasant images used to decorate Italian interiors from the XVth century, after their discovery in “grottoes” located in unearthed villas of the Imperial Rome. The Villa Farnese decorations were executed by many hands under the supervision of Antonio Tempesta.
The various rooms are named after the subjects depicted in the space or the intended function. I list the names of the rooms of the “piano nobile” because they are as intriguing as the rooms themselves: AMBULATORY, LOGGIA OF HERCULES, CHAPEL, ROOM OF FARNESE DEEDS, ANTEROOM OF THE COUNCIL, ROOM OF AURORA, ROOM OF THE WOOL-MAKERS, ROOM OF SOLITUDE or THE PHILOSOPHERS, ROOM OF HERMATHENA, ROOM OF THE TOWER, ROOM OF PENITENCE, ROOM OF JUDGEMENT, ROOM OF DREAMS, ANTEROOM OF THE ANGELS and ROOM OF THE WORLD MAP.
As I normally do, rather than continue with a very long description of the place and what is relevant, I include here a selection of images whose subjects I found particularly interesting or beautiful. It should be realized that reproductions could never convey the complexity and beauty of the place; the Villa is truly a visual treat and visiting it is a fascinating journey in the past. It needs to be experienced to be appreciated. I spent hours visiting the (almost deserted) villa and look forward to see it again during the summer, when the ground floor, and the casino will be open and the gardens in bloom.