Palazzo Farnese di Caprarola, or Villa Farnese, is one of the most fascinating examples of a Renaissance residence in all of Europe.
It has five floors, dozens of rooms, frescoed rooms, public and private areas and grounds with fabulous gardens. An interesting fact is that the building was initially conceived as a defensive structure. In fact, its origins date back to 1530, when Cardinal Alessandro Farnese commissioned Antonio Sangallo to build a fortress in Caprarola. Sangallo designed a powerful pentagonal structure and a strong bastion with very thick walls. A few years later, though, in 1534, the cardinal became Pope Paul III and the work was halted.
Thirty years later Alessandro Farnese the Younger, nephew of Paul III, also a cardinal, retired to Caprarola, to escape the bloody family battles driven by envy and rivalries of other aristocratic families for power over the papacy. In 1555, he hired the architect Jacopo Birozzi da Vignola, called il Vignola, to continue building a sumptuous residence instead of the original fortress on the pre-existing massive bases of a military construction. Following the construction of this grandiose palace, built in just 27 years, a series of works began to adapt the urban layout of Caprarola to the architectural needs of the Palazzo. Some buildings were demolished to build bridges and create a new wide elevated access road, in line with the building, called “La via Dritta – The Straight Road”, today Via Filippo Nicolai.
The building has five storeys, including the underground areas, and is surrounded by a large moat. It has a pentagonal shape and a circular internal courtyard. In memory of the ancient fortress design, four corners are reinforced by ramparts with terraces at the level of the main floor, while the fifth has a tower above the roof. The palace is accessed via a double staircase, whose ramps at first diverge and then converge towards the main door. The servants’ quarters were separate from the cardinal’s living area and were actually carved out of the thick walls.
Vignola also created the frescoes on the internal staircase (the Scala Regia – Royal Staircase). It is a magnificent spiralling staircase that rests on 30 Doric columns. Legend has it that the steps were wide enough that the cardinal could ride directly up to the main floor on horseback.
Over a period of twenty years, numerous illustrious painters decorated the rooms with frescoes with mythological and geographical subjects, and episodes from the history of the Farnese family: the brothers Federico and Taddeo Zuccari, Jacopo Zanguidi (called Il Bertoja), a pupil of Parmigianino, Raffaellino da Reggio and Giovanni de Vecchi. On the main floor, the piano nobile, are the cardinal’s bedroom, the Aurora Chamber, and the celebrity chamber, called the Room of the Fasti Farnesiani (Farnese Achievements), decorated with frescoes that recount the life of the Farnese family. Beyond this is the Antechamber of the Council, which takes its name from the fresco of the Council of Trent skilfully recreated by Vignola, with extremely realistic columns. In the same room, there is also an interesting fresco of Paul III among the cardinals. Following this is the Sala dei Fasti di Ercole- Hall of the Feats of Hercules, masterfully decorated by the Zuccari Brothers with the representation of the mythological creation of the lake of Vico.
One of the most representative rooms in the building is the Stanza delle Geografiche o del Mappamondo – Geographic or Globe Room, which takes its name from the frescoes by Giovanni Antonio da Varese depicting the world then known by the descriptions of travellers. This room contains an even more fascinating work, a singular representation of the Zodiac on the vaulted ceiling.
From the highest floors of the building you can enjoy a spectacular view: Mount Soratte, the Terminillo, the Sabatini Mountains, the valleys and the woods.
For more information: tel. +39 0761.646052