Before becoming a cardinal in 1493, the young Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, the future Pope Paul III, purchased a vineyard in Trastevere near the banks of the Tiber. Along the new road, in 1495, he erected a “modest residence, without a loggia or belvedere”, which was to be “spacious but not pretentious”.
In the year 1638, the painter-chronicler Gaspare Celio wrote: “Behind the palace is a villa with a cypress tree in an inner courtyard, which can be seen from the street. This cypress was planted by Paul III on the day he received his doctorate, and a flat plane tree facing the Tiber was the place of recreation in the house of Paul III.”
The inner courtyard became known as the “Cypress Courtyard”, and indeed the villa itself was sometimes referred to as the Cypress Courtyard. Here was an ideal refuge, a place of peace and tranquillity where the young nobleman Alexander could put aside his cardinal’s hat and relax. On the other side of the river stands the large Palazzo Farnese, built on the land acquired in 1495 by the young Cardinal Alessandro Farnese.
On 6 July 1579, the property of the garden palace of the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi was sold, for the sum of 10,500 ducats, to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese junior, nephew of the pope; he merged it with his adjacent property, Casino Farnese, consisting a house with viridarium purchased at the end of the 15th century. From that moment on, the palace of the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi became known as the “Farnesina”. After the acquisition of the Villa, the place was embellished with numerous sculptures both inside and in the enchantment of nature.
There must have been a stone bridge on the Via Giulia and a wooden bridge that “flew” across the Tiber to “that palace in Trastevere”, (i.e. the Casino Farnese), which was to be the visual centerpiece of the project. The perspective was as important as the passage itself. From the main portal of the Palazzo Farnese there was to be a linear axis, with the Taurus (turned into a fountain), the “strada Giulia”, the bridge, the beautiful gardens and vineyards on the opposite bank, the cypress court, and towards the “strada in Trastevere”, (now Via della Lungara). This delightful project was never realised, yet its very existence testifies to the affection Paul III felt for the “Casino nella Vigna”.