ITALY SPECIAL

Rome, sweet Rome

Make yourself at home in the villas where popes and painters flourished, says James Hill

The villas of Rome are renaissance and baroque dollops of architectural beauty, hugged by parks and gardens situated in the heart of the city – although once they stood in open countryside. In ancient times, Roman villas were farms, but then popes, cardinals and even bankers went on to re-interpret the idea, in the process giving us some of the greatest art and architecture in the city (as well as somewhere to jog).

Villa Torlonia

Villa Torlonia is Rome's most recently refurbished museum complex, originally built in the 19th century by Rome's arriviste Torlonia family, the French banking clan which bank-rolled the Pope just as Napoleon rolled into Italy. It's like an architectural Woolworths with a fussy "pick and mix" approach to architecture, from the saccharine twee of the Casina delle Civette – a cross between a Swiss alpine lodge and a medieval church – to the neo-Palladian, neoclassical cool of the Casino Nobile (a small house rather than a gaming den), which is full of wall frescoes and whiter-than-white sculptures.

The villa became Mussolini's official residence from 1925 to his downfall in 1943 and pre-war Fascist footage often filmed him obsessing over his children in the now clipped and well-tended park which surrounds the main museum. No doubt the kids adored playing in the uncompleted family bunker he had built under the villa. You can still creep down and visit it.

Villa Torlonia (info@museivillatorlonia.it; www.museivillatorlonia.it). Open Tues-Sun, 9am-7pm during the summer; shorter opening hours in winter. Admission €4.50 (£3.75).



Galleria Borghese

Built as a palace of pleasure rather than a place to be lived in, the intimate Galleria Borghese is the concoction of the then Pope's nephew, the jolly, podgy and big-spending Cardinal Scipione Borghese. In the early 17th century, he backed some of the most talented (and badly behaved) superstar artistic yobs in Rome. When they weren't getting into trouble, Caravaggio and Bernini produced some of their greatest work for him. Here you'll see the pick of the former's paintings and the latter's early sculptures including Caravaggio's Madonna dei Palafrenieri and Bernini's theatrical Apollo and Daphne.

After a breathless two-hour slot in this packed gallery you can walk, meander, run, bike or even take a little toy train around Rome's largest central park. It was once a hard-edged formal renaissance garden but in the 1770s, Sir Jacob More smoothed out the edges and sculpted an English-style park in the heart of Rome, with plenty of umbrella pines and architectural folly to play hide-and-seek behind.

Galleria Borghese (pre-booked tickets only from 00 39 063 28 10 for bookings or visit www.galleriaborghese.it). Open Tues-Sun, 8.30am to 7.30pm. Admission €10.50 (£8.75).



Villa Farnesina

This was once the pad of the Bill Gates of early 16th-century Italy, Agostino Chigi, a papal backer, publisher, alum-oil exporting business mogul and renaissance squire. He built his villa in what was then countryside on beside the Tiber, and which is now the slightly passé district of Trastevere.

Known for throwing his best silver plate into the Tiber after a lavish meal just to impress his guests (he had a net at the bottom of the river ready to retrieve it later), Chigi hired the greats of the time to decorate his villa. These included Raphael, who famously couldn't get round to finishing the job so Chigi moved his girlfriend into the house. Today, most of the garden has been chewed off by a busy Tiber-side road but the villa contains jaw-dropping frescoes, busy with the narrative of Cupid and Psyche, in the loggia overlooking a once pristine renaissance garden. Upstairs are the first trompe l'oeil architectural perspectives in Rome. Best of all, this is one of the most cro wd-free museum experiences in the city.

Villa Farnesina (00 39 066 80 27 267; www.lincei.it). Open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 1pm. Admission €5 (£4.10).



Villa Doria Pamphili

Further westwards, beyond the Gianicolo hill and Vatican City, scrolls of French-style box parterre lined with lemon pots have remained pretty much as they were when they were laid in the 17th century by the Pamphili family in the Villa Doria Pamphili. Naturally there's a little family villa to go with it all, but more importantly this is prime running and bird-watching space, the city's largest park. Most of the baroque splendour – the symmetrical alleyways and trickling fountains – has been swept away but there are still surprises such as a little Doric temple.

Villa Doria Pamphili. Open daily, from dawn to dusk.



Villa Ada

Another large park, north of the city centre and just off the ancient Via Salaria. Villa Ada has more activities than any other in the city. Suburban Romans hire bikes, canoes and ponies, and even take part in free gym lessons which the council puts on around the little lake on a Sunday.

Villa Ada. Open dawn to dusk.



Villa Giulia

When a certain Ciocci del Monte pipped Cardinal D'Este (he who then built the Villa D'Este at Tivoli) to the papal post to become Pope Julius III in 1550, he didn't envisage his renaissance villa as one of the top archeological museums in the world.

One of Rome's great Renaissance villas is tucked away in a corner of Villa Borghese and became one of the most lusted after and copied buildings of the 16th century. The Pope didn't live long enough to enjoy his house, but today it contains one of the great Etruscan collections. This collection is a revelation to anybody that ventures out from the Via Flaminia. A 6th- century BC Apollo with his clothes on is a highlight – and there are plenty of jewels, pots and bronzes to keep everybody hooked.

Museo Nazionale Etrusca di Villa Giulia (00 39 06 32 00 562) Open Tuesday to Sunday from 8.30am to 7.30pm. Admission €4 (£3.30).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices