The Villa

The Villa, consisting of a central block with a five-arched loggia, onto which two side wings open, has six levels: basement, ground floor, mezzanine, first floor, second mezzanine and belvedere. A double order of Doric pilasters punctuates the outer walls, concluded at the top by a cornice with putti and festoons. What characterises the construction and decoration is the close link between the Italian garden and the villa, as if each represented the ideal continuation of the other.

Originally, access was through the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche, on the north side, while the current public entrance is on the rear façade, on the south side. The tour inside the Villa starts from the present entrance hall and the ticket office on the ground floor. We visit the reception rooms: the Loggia di Galatea, where there are frescoes by Raphael, Sebastiano del Piombo and Baldassarre Peruzzi; the Loggia di Amore e Psiche, where the vault is decorated with a fresco painted in 1518 by Raphael and his workshop; the adjoining Stanza del Fregio, named after the frieze painted at the top of the walls by Baldassarre Peruzzi.

From here we ascend to the first floor, where we pass into the Sala delle Prospettive, facing south and frescoed by Baldassarre Peruzzi and workshop, which represents the ideal continuation of the loggias on the ground floor; through the false loggia we can glimpse landscape views. At the back is the adjoining bedroom of Agostino Chigi, the Marriage Room of Alexander the Great and Roxane, whose decoration is by Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, known as Sodoma.

It is pleasant, from the first-floor windows, to have an overall view of the garden and, finally, a short tour of the park, an example of an Italian garden; along the gallery of laurels, on the marble, a phrase is engraved almost like a farewell:

 “Quisquis huc accedis: quod tibi horridum videtur mihi amoenum est; si placet, maneas, si taedet abeas, utrumque gratum”

 “For you who come here, what seems ugly to you is beautiful to me: if you like it, stay, if you don’t like it, go away; anyway thank you”.

The gardens

As a significant example of Renaissance culture, the suburban villa of the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi, known as the ‘Magnifico’ (1466-1520), corresponded to the owner’s taste for a residence far from the clamour of the City, immersed in greenery. In the 16th century, the Villa was surrounded by a marvellous viridarium, the composition of which was harmoniously connected to the same architectural forms of the Villa through the two side avant-corps of the building’s façade, with the festive floral decorations of the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche, by Giovanni da Udine. Extraordinary representations of plants from the New World, such as maize, courgettes, the greater and musk gourd, the common bean, officinal plants, fruit plants, as well as ornamental and exotic species, were made with the intention of astonishing and stirring the admiration of the visitor and to show the guests, dignitaries of the papal court, and the pontiff himself, the magnificence and refinement of the Chigi owner.

Only a small strip of the northern part of the garden remains today, while the back of the Villa (south side, where the entrance is now) leads to the “secret garden” inspired by the 16th-century hortus conclusus, separated by a high hedge from the “representative garden”. The latter extends to the south as far as a section of the Aurelian Walls, which is one of the few remains of the walls that once stood on the right bank of the Tiber, whose side facing the river was lost in the late 19th century renovations. After careful restoration work, some tree species have regained their home, according to the nineteenth and twentieth century layout: pines and some cypresses, the laurel grove – which is perhaps the oldest existing – useful and ornamental species (roses, apple trees, medlars, Farnesian acacia, Constantinople acacia, citrus trees, cherry trees, holm oaks, ancient camellias). One can also find some shrub species mentioned in archival documents, such as Myrtus communis, Cornus mas, Berberis, as well as herbaceous perennials and bulbous plants such as Viola odorata in ancient varieties, Lilium, Hyacinthus and Iris that make up the variegated and colourful strip along the ancient Farnese wall.

A small collection of archaeological artefacts (sarcophagi, capitals and statues used as decorative elements) contribute to testify to the ancient opulence of a surprisingly pleasant environment in the heart of Trastevere.

Around 1511-1512 Julius II and Bramante began to lay out the portion of Via della Lungara north of the Villa Farnesina and renovate it with sumptuous palaces to make it as beautiful as Via Giulia. The new layout began with the land Chigi had purchased in 1510; he promised the pope to erect his stables there. Chigi commissioned Raphael – who until then had not yet proved himself as an architect – to design the project. The stables, structured in three naves with a staircase behind, are only known from drawings. The Doric ground floor was followed by a “piano nobile” with a Corinthian order, balcony windows and an attic. All that remains are the plinth with the pedestals, the bases of the double pilasters and the lower part of the blind fields, behind which were the stables.

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