Villa Pamphili: a little bit of history

 

The nucleus of the villa property, the Villa Vecchia or ‘old villa’, already existed before 1630, when it was bought by Pamfilio Pamfili, who had married the heiress Olimpia Maidalchini, to enjoy as a suburban villa. Thereafter he set about buying up neighbouring vineyards to accumulate a much larger holding, which was often known as the Bel Respiro or ‘beautiful breath’ as it stood on high ground, above the malarial areas of Rome, and offered spectacular views which were a desirable feature of Baroque villa settings.

In 1644 Cardinal Giambattista Pamphili became elected to the papacy and took the name of Innocent X. In accordance with this change in status, the Pamphili aspired to a grander and more expansively sited new villa. Early designs were made, possibly by Virgilio Spada rather than the traditional attribution to Borromini, but these were rejected. Instead the project was placed in the hands of the Bolognese sculptor Alessandro Algardi in 1644, assisted by Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi.

The initial design had a central casino (not the modern usage as a gambling establishment) with wings, but only the central block was built. The layout has a central circular room around which the other rooms were arranged. Construction began in 1645 and was complete by 1647 although embellishments and the garden layouts were not finished until 1653. The casino, sometimes known as the Casino del Bel Respiro, was designed as a complement to the Pamphili collection of sculptures both ancient and modern, and other Roman antiquities such as vases, sarcophagi and inscriptions; it was only ever intended for display of the collection and the family and guests resided in the older Vecchia Vigna.

As a show case for sculpture, the somewhat crowded Casino facades have rhythmically alternating windows with niches which were elaborately adorned with sculptures, both antique and modern, with busts in hollowed roundels, with panels of bas-reliefs, and reliefs.

When Girolamo Pamphili died in 1760 without male heirs, the disputes which broke out among the possible heirs were settled in 1763 when Pope Clement XIII Rezzonico granted to Prince Giovanni Andrea IV Doria the right to take the surname, the arms and the vast properties of the Pamphili; the Prince’s claim was based on the marriage between Giovanni Andrea III Doria and Anna Pamphili. Since then, the villa has been known as the Villa Doria Pamphili.

Throughout the 18th century, features were regularly added such as fountains and gateways by Gabriele Valvassori and other architects retained by the Pamphili and their heirs. After the Napoleonic era, more sweeping changes were made. A notable difference is that at the Villa Doria Pamphili’s giardino inglese the Roman remains are likely to be genuine. The site of the villa contained several Roman tombs that yielded vases, sarcophagi and inscriptions that were added to the Pamphili collection.

During the defense of the short-lived Roman Republic in 1849–1850, Garibaldi hastily fortified three of the villas on the outskirts of Rome. The Villa Doria Pamphili lay near the scene of some of the fiercest hand-to-hand combat by the Porta San Pancrazio, as students joined Garibaldi’s legions to defend Rome from the French troops that were eventually successful in reinstalling Pope Pius IX. In the course of the French bombardment, the prominently-sited neighboring Villa Corsini—called dei Quattro Venti for its airy perch— was destroyed. In the aftermath prince Doria-Pamphili bought the extensive Corsini grounds, almost doubling the Villa Doria Pamphili’s already extensive grounds, and erected on the former villa’s site the monumental commemorative arch, also known as the ‘Arch of the Four Winds’, which has ever since provided the major access to the Villa’s grounds. The Corsini casina near it, called the Palazzino Corsini, was not harmed. Today it is used for temporary art exhibitions.

New constructions extended and altered the Villa Vecchia which was given a Romanesque styled façade that is not wholly successful. For the first time, Medieval sculptures were added to the Doria-Pamphili collection of Classical antiquities. At the turn of the 20th century, Art Nouveau interiors were added by Prince Doria Pamphili. The Casino del Bel Respiro, long secluded from public use, was bought by the Italian State in 1957 and used as the seat of a Ministry. Today its collection of antiquities and sculptures is open to the public as a museum.

The park has an area of 1.8 km². It was bought in 1965–1971 by the City of Rome from the Doria-Pamphilii-Landi family. The park’s facilities include sites for bird-watching and jogging, and it is much frequented by the inhabitants of Rome, especially on weekends.

The two sections of the extended villa grounds are divided by a road built for the Olympic games of 1960 as part of the “Via Olimpica”, linking E.U.R. with the Olympic Stadium: the road runs partly in a narrow defile. In celebration of the Jubilee Year of 2000, a curved and arching pedestrian bridge by Massimo d’Alessandro was built to join the two sections more amenably.

When to go

The Villa is opened every day, so you can come here whenever you want just to take a walk or to have a picnic or even to do some jogging. Please remember that the Villa is opened from 7 a.m till 6 p.m in winter and from 7 a.m till 9 p.m in summer, so you can’t see it at night.

What and where to eat close to Villa Pamphili 

Inside the villa there’s a bar/restaurant called Vivi Bistrot (at the entrance of Via Vitellia 102), so if you’re inside the villa and you get hungry or thirsty you can always come here (remember that the water that comes from the Nasoni, the little fountains everywhere in the villa and in Rome, it’s a very good water so you don’t need to buy it); of course the bar is opened only when the Villa is, so if you want to have dinner or lunch you can look for other places, the best restaurants in this area are: La Gatta Mangiona (Via Federico Ozanam 30-32), where you can eat the best pizza napoletana in Rome; La Schiacciata Romana (Via Folco Portinari 36), a very simple place where you can enjoy a good roman pizza and some cheeses and salumi; but the best restaurant to taste the real roman cuisine is Da Cesare (Via del Casaletto 45).

The best place to have an aperitivo is Mò Mò Republic (Piazza Carlo Forlanini 10), they have a really nice garden full of rabbits and a lovely atmosphere.

If you want to buy some pastries or cakes, this area has the best pasticcerie of Rome, you can go to Cristalli di Zucchero (Via di Val Tellina, 114) or to La Dolce Vita (Via Mezzenile 70).

Looking for a very special experience? book an organic gourmet picnic.
Pic-nic in Rome is the ultimate way to enjoy nature and amazing food with your travel companions.

How to reach it

Villa Pamphili has a lot of different entrances, so the addresses are: Via di San Pancrazio, via Aurelia Antica, via Leone XII, largo M. Luther King, via Vitellia, via della Nocetta, so obviously there are a lot of ways to get here, the best way is to take the bus:  710, 870 (via Vitellia, via di Porta S.Pancrazio), 31,33,180,791 via Leone XIII), 984 (via Aurelia Antica e via Leone XIII), 982 (via Vitellia, Via Leone XIII).

Contact us

Any enquiry about this article? Write to Giorgia at love@gourmetaly.com.
Giorgia is a local foodie and insider, she studied foreign languages and she has a degree in Interpreting and Translation and a Master degree in Audiovisual Translation. Meet Giorgia and join one of our events.