Villa Giulia, Rome, Italy

Villa Giulia is a building in Rome that is located along the current Viale delle Belle Arti, on the slopes of the Parioli mountains, not far from Via Flaminia.

Built as a summer residence outside the door of Pope Julius III, to whom it owes its name, it passed to the Italian State with the capture of Rome in 1870 and later used as the seat of the National Etruscan Museum, its current intended use.

The current villa is only a small part of a previous property, which contained three vineyards. Here a villa was built for Pope Julius III, who was certainly not a theologian, but was an affable humanist and great lover of the arts. The Vasari says he was the first who designed it and did all the invention Julia’s Vineyard, but the construction and decoration were the work of a large group of artists, who are said later. Often, as Vasari testifies, contacts between the Pope and the group of artists were held by Monsignor Pietro Giovanni Aliotti, bishop of Forlì and Master of the Chamber of Julius III.

The pope, a highly literate connoisseur of the arts, assigned the initial design of the building to Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola in 1551-1553. The nymphaeum and other garden structures, however, were designed by Bartolomeo Ammanati, all under the supervision of Giorgio Vasari. Michelangelo also worked there. Pope Julius took a direct interest in the villa’s design and decor and spent vast amounts of money on enhancing its beauties. Villa Giulia became one of the most delicate examples of Mannerist architecture.

After the death of Pope Julius, the new Pope Paul IV Carafa, who rose to the papal throne after the very short (20 days) pontificate of Marcello II, a much more severe but no less nepotistic figure than his predecessor, confiscated all the properties that Pope Julius had together; the villa was divided, the main building and part of the gardens became the property of the Apostolic Chamber, and the villa was reserved for the use of the Borromeo, grandchildren of the subsequent pope, Pius IV Medici.

As in all the Renaissance villas in Rome – and all the more so since it is a villa with attached crops – water was one of the protagonists of the architectural structure. Villa Giulia was therefore equipped with an underground derivation of the Virgin Aqueduct (the same as the Trevi Fountain) exclusively dedicated to it. The public also benefited later, thanks to the two drinking fountains located at the beginning of the via di Villa Giulia on the via Flaminia, by Cardinal Borromeo in 1672, and by Filippo Colonna prince of Paliano in 1701.

The building was restored in 1769 on the initiative of Pope Clement XIV and intended for use by the army (for quartering, storage and even a hospital); the Veterinary School was also located there, for the convenience of which cordoned access to the low fountain of the nymphaeum, used to water the horses).

In 1870 the building became the property of the Kingdom of Italy, as the site of collection and exhibition of the materials found in the territory between the Cimini mountains and the Tiber, as part of an extensive archaeological exploration program conducted in the Falerii territory (1888 -89). Thus began the museum destination of the villa, to which in the 1930s two external wings were added to house the collections and services. The reproduction of an Etruscan temple was built in the right courtyard thus obtained.

After the papal splendor of the sixteenth century the Villa experienced a long period of decline until in 1889, in the aftermath of Italian political unity, at the instigation of Felice Barnabei, Italian archaeologist and politician, it was finally transformed into a museum based on an ambitious and futuristic program of archaeological explorations and an innovative museum project. The latter was aimed at providing the city of Rome with a “National Museum which is one of the main centers of historical and artistic culture”, divided into a section intended for “urban antiquities” (coinciding today with one of the current ” National Roman Museum “, at the Baths of Diocletian [link to the site]) and one focused on” extra-urban antiquities “.

The latter was, located in the Villa of Pope Julius III on Flaminia, it was intended to accommodate all the objects discovered in the area that gravitated to the capital to extend to a part of the territories once dependent on the state of the Church, from Lazio to Umbria

Barnabei’s project, which materialized thanks to the Royal Decree on February 7, 1889, aimed to recover one of the most fascinating places of the Italian Renaissance and, at the same time, to equip the newly born nation with a museum entirely dedicated to reflection on the most remote origins of the Italian identity, thanks to an exhibition focused on the pre-Roman antiquities of peoples such as the Etruscans and the Italics (in particular Falisci, Umbri, Latini and Sabini).

During the 1900s, after an initial autonomy, the Museum became the central headquarters of the Archaeological Superintendence for the protection of northern Lazio, coinciding with the area occupied by some of the most important Etruscan cities: Veio, Cerveteri, Tarquinia and Vulci.

For these reasons Villa Giulia, in the meantime also enriched by the nearby Villa Poniatowski (the nineteenth-century residence of the last descendant of the Kings of Poland, has become the most important Etruscan museum in the world, being able to boast in its collections some of the most famous masterpieces of this civilization, for a total of over 6000 objects distributed in 50 rooms, on an exhibition area of over 3000 square meters.

For its extraordinary history and cultural importance, in 2016 [ Ministerial Decree n. 44 of 23 January 2016 ], the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia has been included among the 32 institutes of “significant national interest” with scientific and administrative autonomy, starting a new page in its centuries-old history.

The villa
Like all suburban villas, Villa Giulia had an urban entrance (on via Flaminia, an ancient Roman road) and a garden behind. The villa itself was the threshold between two worlds, an essentially Roman conception that has been adopted in every urban culture of western Europe.

The casino, of which Michelangelo had also provided a project, was built on a project by Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola in 1551 – 1553. Bartolomeo Ammannati, Giorgio Vasari and Michelangelo Buonarroti also worked on it. The pictorial decoration of the walls was made by Prospero Fontana, Taddeo Zuccari, Pietro Venale and a group of helpers. The pope spent large amounts of money to increase the beauty of the villa, which is one of the most delicate examples of Mannerist architecture.

From the compositional point of view we have:

Symmetrical organization according to the main axis, and articulation in several areas around three gardens on different levels
Combination of contrasting surfaces: the main facade is planar with a straight perimeter, while the rear one is concave in a semicircle.
The urban front, by Vignola, consists of a severe two-storey facade, each floor having the same height. It has at its center the triple rhythm of a fully detailed triumphal arch, flanked by symmetrical wings of only two windows. The facade is flanked at each end by a pillar of the Doric order. This facade of Villa Giulia constitutes the guiding idea of the 18th-century Georgian villa with seven windows, reproduced so often in Virginia homes.

The rear part of the building shows the large loggia of Ammanati which looks over the first of the three courtyards. The loggia gives access to the garden and the passage to the central courtyard is obtained by two escapes of marble stairs that lead to the heart of the villa complex – a Nymphaeum (which is located at a lower altitude), for al fresco dining escaping the summer heat. This composition, articulated on three levels of covered loggias and decorated with marble statues and balustrades, is built around a central fountain: in this cool environment, sheltered from the burning sun, parties that lasted the whole day had to be held. The central fountain is a wonderful work of art in itself; designed and sculpted by Vasari and Ammannati, it represents the divinities of rivers and caryatids.

The fence of the first garden becomes one with the second building, which leads to the central courtyard, giving compositional continuity.

The third garden, located at the end of the main axis, is Italian-style.

The Casino della Vigna, as it is sometimes known, and its gardens were located in the center of well-kept vineyards. At that time, before the English style became fashionable, the most pleasant view imaginable from a garden was that of an orderly agriculture, where man’s hand had tamed the capricious disorder and the danger represented by nature. The papal guests would have boarded boats at the gates of the Vatican and transported to the large private landing place on the Tiber, to enjoy the pleasures and magnificence of the villa, to stroll in the gardens and to eat the luxurious meals in the nymphaeum.

The National Etruscan Museum
Since the beginning of the 20th century it has housed the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia, founded in 1889 with the aim of gathering together all the pre-Roman antiquities of Lazio, southern Etruria and Umbria belonging to the Etruscan, Faliscan and you understand. The most famous find is the terracotta funerary monument, the Sarcophagus of the Spouses which represents an almost life-sized married couple who happily recline as if they were at a lunch.

ETRU National Etruscan Museum is housed in two spectacular Renaissance villas, surrounded by greenery and full of open spaces: temples of culture, but also places of peace where you can breathe the magnificence of one of the happiest periods in Italian history and architecture.

Built by Pope Julius III, Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte, between 1550 and 1555, Villa Giulia is a splendid example of a Renaissance villa, equipped with an architectural garden with terraces connected by scenic stairways, nymphaeums and fountains.

The greatest artists of the time, Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola (“architect of S. Holiness”) and Bartolomeo Ammannati, participate in the design of the Villa, with the contribution of Michelangelo Buonarroti and Giorgio Vasari, while the decorative apparatus was entrusted to Prospero Fontana supported by a team of artists, including Pietro Venale da Imola and the young Taddeo Zuccari.

The hemicycle is decorated with delicate pictorial interventions inspired by the grotesques of the Domus Aurea. The rooms on the main floor welcome an extraordinary cycle of frescoes, including the representations of the Seven Hills of Rome.
In 1889, the Villa became the seat of the National Etruscan Museum.

Villa Poniatowski
The Villa, inaugurated in 2012, is the second seat of ETRU. Its rooms house the finds from the Latium Vetus and Umbria. The restoration of a large area intended for temporary exhibitions is underway.

Giuseppe Valadier transformed it into a villa in the early nineteenth century on behalf of Stanislao Poniatowski, grandson of the last king of Poland. With the main view on Via Flaminia, it is embellished with pools and fountains, while the large garden formed by terraced terraces is decorated with ancient sculptures.

The restoration work in 1997 led to numerous discoveries: on that occasion the first sixteenth-century layout of the Villa came to light, with the remains of two fountains, furnishings for pools and fountains, pictorial and decorative cycles.