Villa Farnese: A Sanctuary With a Secret Garden

The Villa Farnese or Palazzo Farnese.

One of the finest examples of 16th-century Renaissance architecture, the Villa Farnese was constructed under order of Pope Paul III and his grandson, Alessandro Farnese. (Image: Marco Ciannarella via Dreamstime)

One of Italy’s proud historical landmarks, Villa Farnese, remains a tourist attraction today. This magnificent estate was commissioned by Pope Paul III in 1545 and is now open to the public for tours. Inside the villa, you’ll find an incredible collection of frescoes and art treasures, while outside, the walled garden awaits with surprises at every turn. 

If you’re looking to tour a beautiful sanctuary with a secret garden, look no further than Villa Farnese

A brief history of Villa Farnese

This magnificent landmark, also referred to as Palazzo Farnese (or perhaps Villa Caprarola), has a lengthy history — more than 500 years to be exact. It all began when Cardinal Alessandro Farnese bought the estate’s property in 1504. Of course, Farnese would later become Pope Paul III.

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The pentagonal foundation’s construction began in 1515. Still, it wasn’t until much later, in 1556, that Pope Paul III’s grandson, also named Alessandro Farnese, chose to transform this defensive structure into a rural residence, or villa. By this time, the Farnese dynasty was no longer in the good graces of Julius III, from the Del Monte family, who became the next Pope.

Interior staircase of the Villa Farnese with marble columns and frescoes in view.
Pope Paul III’s grandson, Alessandro Farnese, chose to transform the defensive structure into a rural residence in 1556. (Image: Massimo Santi via Dreamstime)

The town of Caprarola, near Rome, but still far enough away, was chosen by Cardinal Farnese as the location for his home once he decided to abandon the politics of the Vatican. The succeeding Farnese family hired Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola as the project’s designer. He was among the most well-known Italian architects of the 16th century and lived from October 1, 1507, to July 7, 1573. The Jesuits’ Church of the Gesù in Rome and the Villa Farnese in Caprarola are two of his greatest works.

Construction began in 1559 and continued until Vignola’s demise in 1573. Eventually, the building of the villa was finished in 1575.

The design of Villa Farnese

The villa serves as a fine example of the Renaissance style of architecture. Proportion and balance were achieved through the selective use of ornaments. So despite how dominant the home is in its surroundings, the location benefits from its harsh architecture.

The style used in creating the villa is known as Marrerism, which was a reaction to the elaborate High Renaissance style that was in vogue 20 years earlier.

The gardens of Villa Farnese

A beautiful park is located behind the home, a creative feature concealed by the imposing exterior. There are two formal gardens, one for each season, just behind the Palace. Farnese and his contemporaries might have enjoyed unwinding in a secluded garden farther up the hill among the chestnut trees.

Additionally, the Casino — a small summerhouse — is at the top of a water staircase and has a garden terrace filled with sculptures of mythical beings singing and interacting with each other. It is far from the ideal of the Counter-Reformation, the movement whose thought was reshaping Catholicism at the time.

Water staircase leading up to the summerhouse at the Villa Farnese in Italy.
A summerhouse at the top of a water staircase has a garden terrace filled with sculptures of mythical beings singing and interacting with each other. (Image: Massimo Scacco via Dreamstime)

The art in Villa Farnese

The Zuccaris, who created the well-known series celebrating the achievements of the Farnese family, were among the most well-known painters of the day who contributed to the house design. Two suites of internal rooms, one for the summer and the other for the winter, are located off the main courtyard.

They have bizarre ornaments and images that glorify the Farnese family illuminated by the Zuccari family. The Myths of Hercules, The Four Seasons, and The Ten Farnese Villas murals are examples of their work.

Generally, the villa also has the oldest surviving classical stars on the heavenly globe Atlas holds. The majority of the 48 traditional constellation figures are depicted, but not the individual stars that make up each constellation.

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