Roman Villas

Renaissance and ancient Roman Villas

Roman Villas

Tuscan Villas

Villas of the Veneto

Tuscan Villa Gardens

Tuscan Villa Bibliography

Villas of Ancient Rome

The term "Tuscan villa" is sometimes applied rather indiscriminately to any largish house located in the region of Tuscany (or even in Florida), not rarely by the rental real estate industry. In fact, a villa was originally a Roman country house built for a member of the upper classes or imperial family. Pliny the Elder divided villas into two kinds, the villa urbana, which was a country seat that could easily be reached from Rome (or another city) for a night or two, and the villa rustica, the farm house estate, permanently occupied by the slaves and the factor who had general charge of the estate, centred on the villa itself which might be only seasonally occupied. There was a concentration of Imperial villas near the Bay of Naples, especially on Capri, at Monte Circeo on the coast and at Antium (Anzio). Wealthy Romans escaped the summer heat into the hills around Rome, especially near Tivoli where Hadrian's Villa is located. Cicero is said to have possessed no fewer than seven villas, the oldest of which was near Arpinum. Pliny the Younger had three or four, of which the example near Laurentium is the best known from his descriptions.

Ancient Roman villa

Roman painting of a marine villa

The inspirations for the form and organisation of Renaissance villa architecture may be found in the literary descriptions provided by the authors of ancient Rome. In particular, Columella (470 A.D.) in De re rustica and Cato (234149 B.C.) in De agricultura elaborate on the features of their villas in the Campagna, the low-lying area surrounding Rome. Commonly in ancient writings, the villa exerts restorative powers due its natural setting or otium, in contrast to the excesses of city life, or negotium. Horace (658 B.C.) extolled the simple virtues and pleasures of ancient villa life in his poetry.

Pliny the Younger (ca. 61112), in his Letters (Epistle to Gallus 2.17; Epistle to Apollinaris 5.6), persuaded later patrons and architects of the beauty afforded by his Laurentine and Tuscan villas. His descriptions provided images of the general appearance of the villas and introduced the reader to the experience of intertwined interior and exterior architectural features. Pliny's retreats slipped into the landscape with terraced gardens and opened outward to natural surroundings through loggias, which replaced solid enclosing walls. The author retired to the gardens, or horti, to appreciate the abundance of flora and fauna. The cultural life of poetry, art and letters unfurled in a setting that was distinctly different from the urban experience of Rome. Relying on initial reconstructions by Vincenzo Scamozzi (15521616), later architects would turn to Pliny's descriptions to imagine the spaces and experience of the ancient villa.

Roman villa garden

Reconstruction of the Roman garden of the House of the Vettii in Pompeii

Roman writers refer with satisfaction to the self-sufficiency of their villas, where they drank their own wine and pressed their own oil, not unlike the foreign inhabitants of Tuscany today. The villa thus holds a central place in the history of Western architecture. On the Italian peninsula in antiquity, and again during the Renaissance, the idea of a house built away from the city in a natural setting captured the imagination of wealthy patrons and architects. While the form of these structures changed over time and their location moved to suburban or even urban garden settings, the core design tenet remained an architectural expression of an idyllic setting for learned pursuits and spiritual withdrawal into a domestic retreat from city life.

Renaissance Villas near Rome

The architecture and landscape elements described by Pliny the Younger appear as part of the Roman tradition as embodied in the monumental Villa Adriana. Originally built by the Emperor Hadrian in the first century A.D (120s130s), the villa extends across an area of more than 300 acres as a villa-estate combining the functions of imperial rule (negotium) and courtly leisure (otium). Having fallen into ruin, the vast archaeological site was recovered in the 15 C and many architects - including Francesco di Giorgio Martini (14391501/2), Andrea Palladio (15081580), and Pirro Ligorio (ca. 15101583) - excavated and recorded firsthand the details of Hadrian's design while consulting descriptive passages of the emperor's life at the villa from the Historia Augusta. Most notably, the architect-antiquarian Ligorio employed sculptural remains of the Villa Adriana in the Vatican gardens and as architectural spolia in his design of the nearby Villa d'Este (begun 1560). Ligorio's design for Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este (15091572) was one of the most splendid garden ensembles in Renaissance Italy and remains celebrated for its festive waterworks and terraced gardens. Like the descriptions of ancient villas consulted by Renaissance architects, the Villa d'Este commands spectacular vistas over the Roman campagna from its position high in the hills of Tivoli above the Villa Adriana.

The re-constructed grandeur of the ancient Roman villa-estate depended not only on written descriptions but also on the rediscovery of painted frescoes on the walls of antique ruins. Raphael (14831520) and his workshop reinterpreted the highly ornamental stucco details from their archaeological studies for the monumental Villa Madama in Rome (begun 1517). The painted and sculpted relief grotesques portray narratives from ancient authors and follow antique examples from the Villa Adriana and the Domus Aurea. Similarly, for Pope Julius III del Monte, several architects - including Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola (15071573), Bartolomeo Ammanati (15111592), and Giorgio Vasari (15111574) - created ornate surfaces within the courtyard, loggia and grotto at the retreat in suburban Rome known as the Villa Giulia (155153).

Inspired by ancient precedent, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola adapted an enormous pentagonal-shaped fortified structure into his design for the Villa Farnese (begun 1556), which integrated the concepts of the Roman garden and villa within an invented form featuring a circular courtyard. In the late 16 C and early 17 C, as the Roman elite turned to building country retreats, other architects began to specialise in villa architecture with increasing latitude from historical precedent. Skillfully blending principles of classical form with the Baroque ideas of unity, grandeur and the spectacular, their designs unified the architecture of the surface, interior and landscape setting into a carefully arranged decorative whole.

Rome had more than its share of villas with easy reach of the small 16 C city: the progenitor, the first villa suburbana built since Antiquity, was the Belvedere or palazzetto, designed by Antonio Pollaiuolo and built on the slope above the Vatican Palace. The Villa Madama, the design of which, attributed to Raphael and carried out by Giulio Romano in 1520, was one of the most influential private houses ever built; elements derived from Villa Madama appeared in villas through the 19 C. Villa Albani was built near the Porta Salaria. Others are the Villa Borghese; the Villa Doria Pamphili (1650); the Villa Giulia of Pope Julius III (1550), designed by Vignola.

Beautiful ornamental facades, elaborate entrance gates and gardens, replete with fantastic water displays and antique statues, formed the stage for the grand theatrical entertainments of the day. Noteworthy examples include the immense villa gardens on the Pincio and Gianiculum hills associated with the powerful families of Rome such as the Villa Pincian (now Villa Borghese, 161213), the Villa Medici (1540/157477), and the Villa Doria Pamphilj (164452) on the Gianiculum. Equally vast estates were laid out in the Alban hills outside Rome at Frascati, including the Villa Aldobrandini (15981603) and the Villa Mondragone (157377).

Villa Matassi - Roman holiday villa

Roman vacation villa

Villa Matassi is a luxurious 18 C country house located 10 km from Tivoli and an hour from the nearest Rome metro station. Ciampino airport is 40 km away. The villa accommodates 8 persons and is situated in walled grounds decorated with Roman antiquities. There is a large swimming pool and the gardens are shaded by pines and cypresses. Catering is available and there is a full-time custodian. Ideal for a tranquil and stress-free vacation convenient for day visits to Rome and the sights of the Roman Campagna.

Click here to learn more about the Villa Matassi holiday villa in the Roman countryside.

Villa "Gli Eucalipti" - vacation villa near Rome

Holiday villa near Rome

Villa "Gli Eucalipti" is located in the rolling countryside of the Parco di Veio archaeological park directly north of Rome. The villa itself accommodates 6 persons and there are additional rooms in the annexes. This has proven to be a wonderful location for wedding celebrations in addition to providing a fabulous vacation location within easy driving distance of central Rome and the Roman lake district.

Click here to learn more about the Villa "Gli Eucalipti" holiday villa near Rome.

Roman Villas

Tuscan Villas

Villas of the Veneto

Tuscan Villa Gardens

Tuscan Villa Bibliography

Villas of Tuscany ammonet InfoTech 2006 - 2014