Villa Borghese (also called Villa Pinciana) is an English-style public park in the center of Rome full of monuments, gardens, statues and exciting views whose construction began in 1606 by the will of Cardinal Scipione Caffarelli Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V.
The cardinal’s desire was to build a villa that reflected the immense prestige of the family and at the same time that housed his art collection. The villa is nicknamed the “museum park” (“parco dei musei”) and among these the “Galleria Borghese” is one of the most famous in the world.
Villa Borghese: from the 17th century till today
What was there before
In 1605 the estate, already owned by the Borghese family, initially occupied only the ancient site of the Horti di Lucullo (Colle del Pincio). Cardinal Scipione Borghese, acquiring adjacent vineyards and land, began to transform it into the largest park in Rome with the aim of making it the symbol of the grandeur and prestige of the Borghese family.
The Villa was to exceed in wealth and splendor all the other noble residences of Rome. At that time the large gardens were only open to guests.
The architect Flaminio Ponzio was commissioned to build the Casino Nobile (the today’s Galleria Borghese) and continued, at his death, by the Dutch Jan van Santen who, with the collaboration of the gardener Domenico Savino da Montepulciano, extended the areas of the gardens with the creation of a large hunting sector.
With the intervention of Pietro and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Cardinal Scipione, passionate about artworks, dedicated himself the villa enriching it with his collections of paintings by the most famous artists, while taking care of the precious furnishings and maintenance of the “secret gardens” that were on the sides of the villa itself.
The Casino was completed with splendid decorations and sculptures and surrounded by other small houses, fountains, and a refined park. The estate covered an area of eighty hectares divided into three “enclosures”. The first was the space in front of the Casino Nobile, the second up to the Parco dei Daini; the third (called “Barco”), from Piazza di Siena extended to the area where the Bioparco is located today.
The villa, between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
After the death of Scipione Borghese the Villa continued to be taken care of and did not undergo partial changes until from 1770 Prince Marcantonio IV Borghese gave impetus to a radical renewal of the park.
Conversion works mainly concerned the main buildings such as the Casino Nobile, the Casino dei Giochi Giochi (now “Aranciera”) and the expansion of the large adjacent park with the remaking of the neoclassical decorations. The stuccos inside the buildings were renewed and marble, frescoes and alabaster statues were added.
The Prince, assisted by the architects Antonio and Mario Asprucci and with the collaboration of master gardeners and artists, promoted the placement of precious statues along the park and started the construction of the Garden of the Lake and Piazza di Siena.
Decorations and friezes gave greater luster to the gardens enriched by enchanting fountains and ponds, among which the Aqua Felix, the Sea Horse Fountain, the Temple of Diana, the Casino dell’Orologio, the Garden of the Lake with, in the center, the splendid Temple of Aesculapius.
The park was open for summer walks and leisures offered to the people by the Prince to admire the magnificent Garden of the Lake with boat trips, the vast square of Siena and even the pigeon shooting at the Parco dei Daini.
Upon the death of Marcantonio IV, his son Camillo Borghese, married to Paolina Bonaparte (Napoleon’s sister), made a substantial contribution to the magnificence of the Villa with grandiose shows and popular festivals, such as the ride in the air balloon in Piazza di Siena, songs and dances. We can find many evidence in paintings and engravings of that time.
At the end of the nineteenth century,due to the exorbitant expenses for the reconstruction works incurred by Prince Camillo Borghese, public admission was accepted under payment for the first time.
After the unification of Italy
After the unification of Italy in 1861, a long legal controversy over the possession of the Villa came between the Borghese family and the Italian State which in 1901 finally bought the entire monumental complex, then sold to the Municipality of Rome and opened to the public.
The ownership of the Casino nobile (the current Galleria Borghese), with its rich artistic collection, has been confirmed to the State which has transformed it into a public museum where exhibitions and important artistic events are held.
From 1908 onwards improvements were made with new openings due to the nascent neighboring districts such as Parioli and Flaminio with entrance stairways and an overpass connecting the Pincio. The entrance from viale Rossini also allows visits to the Zoo inside the Villa.
Celebratory monuments depicting famous foreign personalities and writers such as Goethe, Victor Hugo, Byron, Umberto I and Ferdousi, were placed since 1904 along the avenues of the villa. The rearrangement of the pond basin and extraordinary maintenance interventions of the temple of Aesculapius were carried out between 2013 and 2014.
The “Villa Borghese sculpture deposit” was inaugurated in 2015 under the premises of the Pietro Canonica Museum. Around eighty works are exhibited and come largely from the collection of the Borghese family. Originally they were placed in the squares and avenues of the villa as ornaments for the furnishings, architecture and fountains.
The villa: what to see
Villa Borghese is a fusion of attractions with museums, sculptures, monuments, fountains, gardens, sports facilities, cinemas, and a small artificial lake. The immense city park is an open-air museum where you can experience and admire the best of Italian art and culture.
The park of Villa Borghese extends over one of the most famous hills in Rome within the Aurelian walls: the Pincio. Today this hill is a fantastic garden intersected by wide avenues and tree-lined walks surrounded by busts of internationally renowned artists.
The terrace of the Pincio, which overlooks Piazza del Popolo, offers a spectacular view of Rome, which extends from Piazza del Popolo to the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, a unique panorama in the world.
Inside Villa Borghese there are many statues dedicated to the world of art. Monuments and busts depicting writers and poets were placed in various stages from 1851 to 1952. Unfortunately, vandalism often requires considerable restoration work on these sculptures.
Many the characters depicted, from Horace to Virgil, from Dante Alighieri to Francesco Petrarca, from Giovanni Boccaccio to Niccolò Machiavelli.
Lord Byron statue
Located in Via della Pineta, the beautiful Carrara marble statue of Lord Byron is a copy of the original sculpted by the Danish sculptor Thorvaldsen, now in the library of Trinity College, in Cambridge. The poet is portrayed seated on Roman ruins, in elegant dress. A cloak on his shoulders, with his right hand he holds a pen waiting for inspiration while the left hand holds the fragment of a book.
Prominent character of the romance of his time, he is still considered today, one of the greatest English poets read and known in the world. The inscription on the marble pedestal on which the statue rests are verses of the poet taken from “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” part IV, CXXXVII.:
“Ma io ho vissuto e non ho vissuto invano: la
mia mente può perdere la sua forza, il mio sangue il suo fuoco,
e la mia struttura perire anche nel vincere il dolore;
Ma c’è quello dentro di me che stancherà
Tortura e Tempo, e respiro quando espiro. “
“But I have lived, and have not lived in vain:
My mind may lose its force, my blood its fire,
And my frame perish even in conquering pain,
But there is that within me which shall tire
Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire”
Wolfgang Goethe statue
Imposing and majestic, the statue of the German writer Wolfgang Goethe was a gift from the Emperor of Germany William II to the city of Rome as a sign of friendship between the two peoples. The writer and poet loved Italy very much, and stayed there between 1786 and 1788. The Italian sculptor Valentino Casali created the artwork which was inaugurated in 1904.
The monument to one of the greatest German writers of all time, reaches eight meters while the only statue of Goethe is three meters high and stands on a mighty Corinthian capital.
It’s a symbol of the relationship with Rome and at the foot of the capital there are two sculptures that allegorically embody subjects of the writer’s works. Drama: Oreste at the feet of Iphigenia. Lyric: Mignon alongside the old harpist Lotario. philosophy: Faust attempted by Mephisto.
Statue of Aleksandr Puškin
In the enchanting gardens of Villa Borghese stands the statue of the famous Russian poet and playwright Aleksandr Puškin, who died in 1837. His monument was created by a Russian sculptor and placed in the Villa in 1999.
Pushkin never visited Italy, but in some of his works he declared avowedly of his admiration: “where the golden nights of Italy descend, I will breathe freely” (Eugene Onegin – Book I – 49). All over the world sculptures have been dedicated to him in memory of his mastery with which he wrote plays, blending different styles and languages.
Built between the 17th and early 20th century, the artistic fountains of Villa Borghese have always been contemplated for their beauty and originality. They are installed along the entire perimeter of the Villa and are rich in carvings, stuccos and decorations. Statues of goddesses and mythological characters dominate them from above framed among jets, jets of water and luxuriant vegetation.
Several were the authors of these splendid sculptures placed over the centuries and which have become essential decorative elements of the Villa. The water that irrigates the fountains and ponds of the villa comes from the Peschiera aqueduct. Let’s find out the history and description of some of the most famous.
Sea Horse Fountain
The Sea Horse Fountain, made of marble and travertine by the sculptor Vincenzo Pacetti, was designed by the painter Cristoforo Unterberger in 1791. Located in the square of the same name, it has an extensive circular basin with four sea horses that extend like fishtail to support it. In the center there is a double chalice from which a jet of water comes out.
The Dolphin Fountain (“Fontana dei Delfini”), located in viale David Lubin, is inserted in a balustrade that truncates in the center, leaving room for the travertine fountain. The two dolphins that give the fountain its name have tails oriented upwards and connect the fountain to the two side walls.
A semicircular tub with a rounded edge has a flower-shaped bowl with the petals down in the center, facilitating the central spurt of water that spins away on the outer petals.
The Fountain of Venus in Piazzale Scipione Borghese is located in the center of a vast rectangular garden and dates back to the 19th century. It was probably designed by the architect Giovanni Vasanzio and consists of a large circular basin with a rocky prominence in the center on which stands the statue of the standing goddess. It is carved in light marble and is depicted entirely naked (it is a copy of the Medici Venus, “Venere Medicea”).
The pond of Villa Borghese
Built in 1766 on a project by Antonio Asprucci in collaboration with the expert garden designer, Jacob Moore, the Villa Borghese pond (“Laghetto di Villa Borghese”) is a body of water of enchanting charm. In the center there is a small artificial island where the Ionian style Temple of Aesculapius stands, which houses the statue of the god of medicine recovered at the Mausoleum of Augustus.
Antonio Asprucci himself, together with Cristoforo Unterberger, between 1785 and 1792, built this small temple in the Ionian style, where muses, water lilies, goslings, gulls, turtles and statues of deities stand out, framing an exclusive and exciting bucolic landscape.
Boat rental in the Villa Borghese pond
Renting one of the picturesque rowing boats and crossing the pond is a suggestive experience. A boat ride on the calm waves of the water allows you to get near to the Temple of Aesculapius and admire the architectural details that characterize it in all its charm.
The surrounding area is demarcated and cannot be accessed. By now accustomed to the presence of boat visitors, ducks, birds and ducks, they will be your silent companions for the entire route.
Not far from the temple of Aesculapius there is one of the most fascinating attractions of the large villa, the famous water clock, the Victorian “hydrocronometer”. The inventor and professor Giovan Battista Embriaco built it in 1867 with the aim of combining scientific effort with the energy of nature.
It is set in a tower in the center of a small lake in the beautiful gardens of the villa. Filling and emptying of water coordinates timing mechanisms.
The Bioparco is the Zoological Garden of Rome, one of the oldest zoos in Europe, where animals from all over the world are hosted. Carl Hagenbeck, who created it in 1908 on an area of 12 hectares, imagined the zoo with a different perspective.
Instead of iron bars and gates he dug channels and ditches harmoniously studied and designed in English style, to divide the public from the animals. This absolute novelty gave the feeling that the animals lived free in the large gardens with which the villa was equipped.
The scenographer architect Moritz Lehmann and the engineer Urs Eggenschwiler, designed the housing for animals and artificial rocks with innovative techniques. With these modern architectures, the zoo thus became one of the most attractive places in the city, where you could walk in the midst of a lush botanical garden and be able to admire the different species of animals.
Giuseppe Roda, an expert gardener designer, created the magnificent green garden. After a few years he designed the circular reptile house and the large aviary which, in addition to its architectural importance, constitutes a revolutionary solution for high-flight migratory birds.
The Roman Zoological Garden, as an exceptional work of scientific, technical and artistic art, has inspired nothing less than the zoological park of the Bois de Vincennes in Paris. Mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians from 5 continents are housed in a surface divided into dedicated areas.
From the area of the Sumatran tigers, to the area of the orangutans, from that of the dwarf monkeys, to the valley of the bears. The goal is to best care for each species of animal in order to allow its conservation by giving them the best habitat possible.
The Bioparco of the Capitoline metropolis today offers visitors various activities: exhibitions, theater, conference courses and environmental projects.
Piazza di Siena
Piazza di Siena was born by the will of Prince Marcantonio IV Borghese in 1792 and owes its name to Siena, the birthplace of the family. The prince’s idea was to create a space reminiscent of Piazza del Campo in Siena, where the Palio, since the Middle Ages, was the most celebrated anniversary.
The first international show jumping competition took place in Piazza di Siena in 1922. From that year on, the square will be a scenario for equestrian competitions.
At the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960, Piazza di Siena hosts the individual tests of the riders and the green frame of the square is the scene of an unforgettable feat for Italy. The brothers Piero and Raimondo d’Inzeo win the gold and silver medals and together with Graziano Mancinelli they become the Italian standard bearers of this noble sport.
Today the Piazza di Siena Horse Show is part of the FEI circuit which brings together the eight most prestigious international official show jumping competitions, the elite of world horse riding.
Villa Medici, built on the remains of the Horti di Lucullo (Colle del Pincio), is in an extraordinary position because with its seven hectares of majestic gardens, fountains and sculptures it dominates the center of the city of Rome, overlooking the Trinità dei Monti staircase and the Spanish Steps. Its millennial architectural, cultural and artistic heritage has conquered the heart of famous artists and princes who have periodically made it their residence.
Founded by Cardinal Ferdinando I de ‘Medici in 1576, Villa Medici, in its Renaissance architecture, was based on a design by the architect Bartolomeo Ammanati. Ancient Roman friezes and numerous bas-reliefs on the façade overlooking the gardens come from Trajan’s Markets and Ara Pacis.
Until the first decades of the 18th century, Villa Medici enjoyed the fame of one of the most elegant and delightful places in Rome. Upon the extinction of the Medici dynasty in 1737, the villa passed first to the House of Lorraine and then to the Kingdom of Etruria.
In 1803 Napoleon Bonaparte came into possession of the Villa by transferring the “Académie de France à Rome” thanks to the architect Auguste-Henri-Victor Grandjean de Montigny who oversaw the renovation to host the winners of the Prix de Rome designated by the Academy itself .
The institution, founded in 1666 by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, allowed young artists sponsored by the great French nobles to complete their training and continue to discover the masterpieces of antiquity and the Italian Renaissance.
In addition to traditional disciplines such as painting, sculpture, architecture and music, the Academy opened up to new artistic fields such as art history, archeology, literature, film, video, restoration, writing and even cooking. The Prix de Rome competition was abolished in 1968 by the French writer and Minister of Propaganda and Information André Malraux.
The artist Balthus, who was at the head of the Academy between 1961 and 1967, undertook a vast series of restorations of the palace and its gardens, providing them with modern tools and participating in the works himself.
Other restoration interventions were carried out in 2016 under the direction of the French scenographer, painter and designer, Richard Peduzzie who resumed organizing exhibitions and shows created by the resident artists.
Casina Valadier, historic monumental villa designed by the architect Giuseppe Valadier, is the jewel of the Pincio overlooking Piazza del Popolo. Strongly desired by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1810 who dreamed of an extraordinary view of the city, it was built on the hill where in the ancient Rome families had their wealthy villas.
The Casina, in neoclassical style, was inaugurated in 1817 and Valadier himself wanted it as his private residence but died earlier.
Pompeian-style decorations adorn the rooms, whose superb frescoes have undergone significant renovations over the past few years. From the Risorgimento to the first post-war period, this majestic residence in the center of the park was the meeting point for the world of art, culture and politics.
To the decades of great splendor in the twenties and in the fifties and sixties of the twentieth century, a period of intense frequentations and celebrities. a slow and unstoppable decline came about due to closures, legal proceedings and bankruptcies.
In the early 2000s, Casina Valadier returned to unchanged charm thanks to architects, interior designers and restorers who collaborated to remove past clumsy interventions in the interiors and gardens, bringing this wonder back to its fantastic original structure. Today it is a famous cafe / restaurant and a magical location for events.
The Silvano Toti Globe Theater, which is a replica of Shakespeare‘s Globe Theater circular wooden theater, is also an original feature of the park. The structure has an open roof and the stage extends to the center of the audience. The venue offers live shows with a summer poster dedicated to the staging of Shakespeare’s works.
Casina di Raffaello
The Casina di Raffaello is an evocative building in the gardens of the Villa borghese. Although it has no connection with the famous artist, it has beautiful frescoes and is worth a visit. It also houses a municipal playroom for children aged 3 to 14 with various activities. In addition to the schools, the workshops are open to everyone. It also functions as a center of activities and seminars, events etc.
Casa del Cinema
The “Casa del cinema” or “Casina delle Rose” is the celebration of 21st century cinematographic art. It is an old structure that was born as a restaurant which was later transformed into a barn and finally christened as a new age cinema theater.
Cinemas, exhibitions and festivals are offered in its rooms with free admission. Internationally made films are shown here and it also has a library. It presents indoor and outdoor films with screenings in the months of May and June and from September to October, also hosting musical performances.
How to get there and useful information
How to get there
Getting to Villa Borghese is quite easy thanks to the nine entrances. Porta Pinciana, the Pincio ramps in Piazza del Popolo and the monumental entrance to Piazzale Flaminio are the most popular.
The other entries are:
- via Aldrovandi;
- via Raimondi (2 entrances);
- via Pinciana (2 entrances);
- piazzale San Paolo del Brasile;
- piazzale Cervantes;
- piazzale Pablo Picasso (via di Valle Giulia).
Public transport is the most suitable for not getting stuck in city traffic but above all because it is very difficult to find parking nearby. The subway line A (Red) leads to the Flaminio or Spagna stops, or the F.S. Rome-Viterbo and get off at Piazzale Flaminio.
Alternatively, buses 490, 495, 89, 160 and 61 have stops in via Fiorello La Guardia and Piazzale San Paolo del Brasile; and again buses 223, 910, 53, 63, 83, 92, 360 stop in via Pinciana, height of Galleria Borghese and finally trams 19 and 3 with stops in via di Valle Giulia, via Ulisse Aldrovandi and via Rossini.
The park is not only a complex of squares, monuments and fountains, but it is also a green area where you can spend a day with moments of fun and relaxation among the many attractions offered to adults and children.
San Carlino Theater
At Villa Borghese there is also a Viale dei Bambini where the San Carlino Theater stands, a colorful wooden structure that presents a program of shows where puppets and actors express the desire to dream together with young spectators with passionate participation, creating together the magic of the theater . As you can see, the Biopark is not the only surprise preferred by children.
Il Cinema dei Piccoli
The Cinema di Piccoli, or rather the smallest cinema in the world, has just 63 seats. A record that was officially recognized in 2005 with a lot of inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. Children can watch films in a truly unique space.
Drinking fountains and Relax in Villa Borghese
Fountains are an essential feature of Rome and in particular of Villa Borghese. Given its wide extension, even if there are several refreshment points, it is recommended to bring a bottle of water or a water bottle. Filling them at the fountains will be very useful in the paths along the countless avenues.
For a long walk or a picnic on hot days it is very useful to have a hat and sunglasses and also a towel to lie on the grass to rest under a leafy tree.
The “Valley of the puppies” (“Valle dei cuccioli”) in Villa Borghese is an area for dogs near the Bioparco. Four-legged friends are always welcome but are not allowed inside the Biopark; an exception is made for guide dogs for the blind.