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Tag Archives: Palazzo Colonna

Beyond il Colosseo

20 Feb

Beyond il Colosseo

Every guest wants to see il Colosseo, followed closely by the Vatican Museums, St. Peter’s, Villa Borghese, and many of Rome’s grand and well-known sites. But where do you go once you’ve seen all the most-popular sites? What treasures await those who have more time in Rome? Ric and I have made a point of visiting some lesser-known venues over the past few months and have found some true gems, virtually free of tourists, lacking long lines and crowds.

Palazzo Braschi Museo di Roma

Grand staircase Palazzo Braschi

The art is interesting, but Palazzo Braschi is the star.

New by Roman standards, Palazzo Braschi dates only to the 18th century. Situated adjacent to Piazza Navona, it is a wonder that so few people venture in. The building itself is amazing, with one of the grandest staircases imaginable. Built with Papal wealth, after financial problems plagued the owner the building was sold to the State. After the Second World War, 300 homeless families lived here causing extensive damage, but restoration work resulted in the fine museum we see today.  One hot June day, at the height of tourist season, we found ourselves among a mere handful of people enjoying the cool interior of Palazzo Braschi.  The collection features scenes of Rome as painted during the Renaissance. It’s fun to see how things looked to the artists of the time, but the real star is the Palazzo itself. Revel in the architecture and imagine a time when this was a private residence. 

 Palazzo Colonna 

Great Hall Palazzo Colonna

Palazzo Colonna grandeur: only available on a Saturday.

Not every museum is open every day. A truly notable exception is the Palazzo/Galleria Colonna. Open only on Saturdays from 09:00-13:15, one has to plan to see this treasure. As a bonus, there is an English tour at 11:45 (Italian at 11:00).  Just off Via IV Novembre, Palazzo Colonna presents a less-than-stunning edifice. In fact, we have been past this structure dozens of times without realizing the importance of the site and the art within. (The wax museum at street level provides an odd contrast and is no doubt visited by more people daily than Palazzo Colonna sees in a month… or two.)  Once you are inside, it is jaw-droppingly beautiful. If you recall the movie “Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, the final scene of a palace press conference was filmed in Palazzo Colonna. Parts of the palazzo date from the 13th century and there is a claim that “Dante slept here.” Popes and Hapsburgs, feuds and wars, provide background to this enormous and elegant residence and gallery. The family still lives in apartments at the site, explaining perhaps why it is open so few hours each week.

Palazzo Colonna

Palazzo Colonna: You’ll have to take the tour to hear the story of the cannon ball….

Palazzo Farnese

Palazzo Farnese

A formidable façade reveals a grand beauty, seat of the French Embassy.

Another one-day-a-week venue – at least for English speakers –  is the French Embassy to Italy, located in Palazzo Farnese, which is only open for tours in English on Wednesday, and only at 17:00. (French and Italian language tours are also available on Monday and Friday.)  As a working embassy, only portions of the building and grounds are accessible, and one must reserve at least a week in advance; However, for the modest price of €5.00, it is perhaps one of the highest value tours available.  A pope, Michelangelo, Puccini, Annibale Carracci, Queen Christina of Sweden (the proverbial tenant from Hell), and Giacomo della Porta all played a role in the rich history of this palace.  No pictures are allowed inside, but trust me; the severe exterior on Piazza Farnese does no favors to the beauty within. 

 

Villa Torlonia

Villa Torlonia

La Casina delle Civette, a curious mix of styles.

This is a truly off-the-beaten-path location even for many Romans, Villa Torlonia is a vast and beautiful park with three diverse villas now serving as museums. Once owned by the Pamphilj family (Villa Pamphilj and Galleria Doria Pamphilj are also properties of this enormously wealthy dynasty), it passed to the Colonna family and finally the Torlonia. The estate was extensively remodeled in the early 19th century. There are winding paths, small lakes and fountains, obelisks, the three museums, and more restoration work in progress.  Mussolini lived in the Casino Nobile for 18 years, renting it for one Lira per year.  You will see families enjoying the grounds, playing, walking, and soaking up the sun from a bench. My favorite building is the Casina delle Civette, House of the Owls. Formerly known as “The Swiss Cabin” and originally a refuge from the grand villa Casino Nobile, it has been transformed through the years with a mixture of architectural styles that almost defy description. Go for the stained glass and enjoy the inlaid wood, medieval influences, mosaics and majolica.  

  

Villa Medici

Villa Medici

Villa Medici from the garden.

On a recent Sunday, we were among only four Americans touring Villa Medici. Bordering Villa Borghese, above Viale del Muro Torto, just north of Piazza di Spagna, you will find this magnificent palazzo and grounds. Entering from the fortress like side facing Viale Trinità dei Monti, the villa is impressive only in size and age. Sign up for the guided tour and the beauty of this 16th century enclave is revealed. Villa Medici is like most palazzi, steeped in the history of cardinals, artists, architects and even ancient Romans. Today it is the seat of the French Academy in Rome, hosting artists from all over the world in residency fellowships.  The focus of the tour is on the grounds, which are truly magnificent.  Unfortunately with the Tuscan heritage of Cardinal Ricci and Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici, much of the original sculpture collection is now in Firenze in the Uffizi. Through restoration and replicas, we can enjoy the site much as it once was.  In the private pavilion of Cardinal Medici admire recently restored frescoes from the 17th century, once covered

Villa MEdici

Niobe suffers from hubris and loses al of her children.

thoughtlessly with many coats of lime, now again visible thanks to one of the artist-in-residence fellows.  And in one of the 16 squares of the garden, we discover the dramatic installation of Niobe and her dying children.  The entire estate was restored in the 20th century, ensuring many generations can continue to enjoy this oasis in the midst of busy Rome. By all means one should see the Colosseum, Forum, Palatine Hill, Borghese Gallery, the Vatican and St. Peter’s. When you’ve seen these historic “must do” sites, when you’ve seen the Caravaggios and the Michelangelos in the magnificent churches, there’s still more to discover in Rome: places where you might just find yourself alone with the art.

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Rain in Rome

20 Jan
Waiting for the bus in the rain is one of the distinct pleasures of living here.

Waiting for the bus in the rain is one of the distinct pleasures of living here.

People bemoan the rain and what it does to their carefully laid plans, especially tourists with a limited schedule and vast lists of “must-dos” in Rome. True, this is a great city for being out-and-about, but the rain forces one to think of new indoor venues, especially when you’ve already seen the biggies: The Vatican, Villa Borghese, the Pantheon, Capitoline Museums, Palazzo Massimo (National Museum of Rome), San Luigi dei Francesi and countless other magnificent churches.

There are many delightful and under-appreciated sites. I wrote of one last summer, when we had Palazzo Braschi Museo di Roma almost to ourselves on a Sunday. I’ve sent many visitors there and received reports of how peaceful and interesting it was.
This great hall was featured in the press conference scene of Roman Holiday with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.

This great hall was featured in the press conference scene of Roman Holiday with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.

Usually our Saturday meanderings take us to Campo dei Fiori. This Saturday it was more like a bad day in Portland and not suitable to a 7km walk and marketing. So we ventured into another lesser-known but magnificent museum, Palazzo Colonna. I don’t know how many times I have passed by the rather unimposing edifice on via Nazionale, where the wax museum and various shops do not invite me to linger. But just around the corner, down a small alley-like street with several delightful marble bridges, is the entrance to perhaps the most impressive palazzo we have had the pleasure of visiting. As with many buildings here, the exterior is unremarkable but the interior is incredible. The property itself is gigantic, larger than the Vatican Museums, right in the middle of Rome, yet one can walk by daily, unaware of the treasures within.

Embedded in the steps of the Great Hall, this cannon ball dates back to the Risorgimento.

Embedded in the steps of the Great Hall, this cannon ball dates back to the Risorgimento.

The family has lived here – yes they still occupy apartments – for eight centuries. Having never lived in one house for more than 8 ½ years, I am in awe of roots that run so deep.  The building is as much art as the collection. Only open Saturday mornings, a visit includes a guided tour by an art historian, and the enthusiasm of the staff is itself a treat to behold.

So if you find yourself in Rome on a rainy Saturday – or even on a sunny one – Palazzo Colonna should be on your list.

Magnificent frescoes and Tromp L'oiel cover the ceilings.

Magnificent frescoes and Tromp L’oiel cover the ceilings.

A Colonna was responsible for defeating the Turks at Lepanto. This table base depicts captured Turks in chains.

A Colonna was responsible for defeating the Turks at Lepanto. This table base depicts captured Turks in chains.

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