The park of Villa Borghese extends over the area once occupied by the gardens of Lucullus in the Roman period.
The Borghese family became owners of the land in 1580. A few years later the pavilion designed to house the family’s significant art collection was built by Cardinal Scipione Borghese.
Works on the gardens began in the 18th century, when plans were made to construct further buildings and fountains on various sites. The Casino dei Giochi d’Acqua, now Bilotti Museum, the landscaping of the lake gardens and the Temple of Aesculapius (by Antonio and Mario Asprucci) date from this period.
The architectural elements scattered throughout the gardens were meant to simulate ancient ruins, reflecting the popularity in those times of antique sculpture and architecture. This passion drove some to even feign the discovery of archaeological finds, which were perfectly in keeping with the fashionable romantic aesthetics. Interesting sites include the Uccelliera, decorated with frescoes depicting naturalistic subjects and which originally housed rare bird species, the Meridiana and the Fortress, now home to the Pietro Canonica Museum.
The Casino Nobile is flanked by the Secret Gardens, with rare plants and fruit trees, in line with the 17th-century trend. The gardens feature many attractions, such as the Casa del Cinema at the Silvano Toti Globe Theatre, the zoo and its zoology museum, and Piazza di Siena, which takes its name from the Borghese family’s city of origin.
Piazza di Siena housed a famous equestrian competition in 1922. When the city of Rome bought the Borghese property in 1903, a bridge was built from the Muro Torto, and ancient wall on the edge of the park, to the Pincio gardens, public since the early 19th century.