Villa Borghese

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

Villa Borghese, part of a 197-acre estate, is the third biggest public park of Rome, after Villa Doria Pamphili and Villa Adda. It stretches from the Pinciano and Campo Marzio districts, including buildings of different sizes, fountains, ponds, Italian and English gardens.

Cardinal Scipione Borghese originally built it as a “nobles’ hunting reserve” at the beginning of the XVII century. It was designed by Flaminio Ponzio and Giovanni Vasanzio, then turned into a museum in the 1900s – it now features one of the most acclaimed art galleries with masterpieces from the XVI to the XVIII century by Raffaello, Tiziano, Caravaggio, Bernini, and Canova.

The park has 9 entrances, including that of Porta Pinciana, one from the “scalinata of Trinità dei Monti”, one from the ramps of the Pincio to Piazza del Popolo, and one from Piazzale Flaminio.


In 1589, the central portion of the estate was the property of the Borghese Family, including Lucullo’s Gardens (also known as Horti Luculliani). It was enriched with a “villa di delizie” (“villa of delights”) and the biggest garden ever by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, a nephew of Pope Paulus V.
In 1606, the Cardinal assigned this task to architects Flaminio Ponzio and Giovanni Vasanzio, helped by gardener Domenico Savini da Montelpulciano, and many other artists like Pietro and Gianlorenzo Bernini.
The villa was completed in 1633.

In 1766, Prince Marcantonio IV Borghese (1730-1809) remodeled the original “hunting reserve” (currently hosting Galleria Borghese exhibition in the “Casino dei giuochi d’acqua” – the current Orangerie and Carlo Bilotti Museum), and the park, focusing on the “Giardino del Lago” (“Lake Garden”). Works were undertaken by architects Antonio and Mario Asprucci. Many fountains were added, creating several breath-taking sights.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Camillo Borghese purchased some other land, towards Porta del Popolo and Porta Pinciana, integrating it into the villa, thanks to architect Luigi Canini. Over the course of the century, a big portion of the original Italian garden was transformed into an English landscape patch; this area was then opened to the public on special holidays, hosting popular festivals.


Villa Borghese houses numerous contemporary historical buildings, such as the “Casino del Graziano”, the “Casino Giustiniani”, the “Uccelliera” (“Aviary”),on and the “Meridiana”, with wonderful secret gardens, restored according to the original seventeenth-century structure. There are also several neo-classical and nineteenth-century buildings, such as the “Casino dell’Orologio”, the “Fortezzuola”, and the large Garden of the Lake, redesigned and built in 1786 by Antonio Asprucci. This lake has a romantic artificial island dominated by the Temple of Aesculapius – it can be reached also by boat.

The adjoining Villa Giulia also belongs to the complex, found outside the actual perimeter of the park, at the foot of the hill. Built between 1551 and 1555 as a summer residence for Pope Julius III, it houses the National Etruscan Museum. Villa Medici is now the seat of the French Academy in Rome.

Other buildings located on viale delle Belle Arti – like the National Gallery of Modern Art – were built on the occasion of the international exhibition held in Rome in 1911, to celebrate the first fiftieth anniversary of the Unification of Italy.

The Villa is fitted with facilities for leisure, recreation, and cultural enrichment: for instance, the Canonica Museum, the home-studio of Pietro Canonica, the Raphael Casino, with a playroom for children, the Casina delle Rose (“Rose hut”), with the Casa del Cinema (“Cinema house”), the lively zoo, recently converted into a Biopark, and the Aranciera (“Orangerie”) – now the new Carlo Bilotti Museum with contemporary art exhibitions.
The Globe Theater, a large circular theater pavilion, was built near Piazza di Siena, and modeled on Elizabethan theaters. It mostly features Shakespearean plays.

The gardens are full of fountains, built between the early 1600s and early 1900s, for many cosmetic purposes. In 1610, Giovanni Fontana was tasked with the construction of the “Acqua Felice” aqueduct, and the fountains of the villa.
At the end of the eighteenth century, the period in which the Garden of the Lake was built, the fountains aroused new interest, hence many others were installed, according to a new layout and new requirements. Finally, Raffaele De Vico (1881-1969) built the “Pia Antica Marcia” water tank, which supplied water for the fountains and the ponds of the villa, currently served by the Peschiera River.


The Park

Designed at the beginning of the seventeenth century, it used to feature two formal-structured enclosures, and the third one more rural, and wild. Evergreen plants grow everywhere, including holm oaks and plane trees – some dating back to the very primitive specimen – domestic pines with bicentennial trees, firs, and cedars. Laurel and boxwood are common among the shrubs. The restoration of holm oaks is currently underway.

Parco dei Daini (“Fallow deers” Park via P. Raimondi)

Built during the seventeenth century, also known as “Park perspectives”, it was originally reserved to the Prince. The avenues were delimited by colossal herms (recently restored) by Pietro and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The Perspective of the Theater is the background opposite the border wall, richly decorated with ancient reliefs from ca. 1615.
The current name of this area reminds us of fallow deers and gazelles, which dwelled here until the end of the XIX century.

Il Giardino Boschereccio (Wood garden)

It’s located in front of the “Nobles’ hunting hut” and was designed by Flaminio Ponzio, in 1606. It was originally made of 23 sections with different trees and delimited by tall hedges adorned with precious details, such as the Dark Fountains and the “Grotta dei Vini”. Those original sections are now barely visible, while there are mostly evergreen and deciduous plant species.

Il Giardino posteriore del Casino Nobile (“Nobles’ hunting hut” rear garden – piazzale Scipione Borghese).

The original layout featured the square with the Narcissus fountain in the center, surrounded by several ancient statues. It was also enriched with precious details and four herms attributed to Pietro Bernini and his son Gian Lorenzo. In the 1900s, the fountain was replaced with that of Venus, and the square was arranged as a formal garden.

I Giardini segreti (Secret Gardens – viale dell’Uccelliera)

At the time of Cardinal Scipione there were two private gardens, on both sides of the “Nobles’ hunting hut”, and built between 1610 and 1633. The first one was called “dei melangoli” (“bitter orange trees”), and the second one “dei fiori” (“flower garden”) .

A third one was built around 1680, between the two pavilions Uccelliera (“Aviary”) and Meridiana. Rare and exotic flowers were cultivated, in particular bulbous ones. The restoration, carried out in the late 1900s, revived the design of the flower beds and the seventeenth-century blooms. The fourth garden, called the “Propagation Garden”, is currently used as a nursery for the plants exhibited in the three abovementioned areas.

Valle dei Platani (largo P.Picasso).

Also known as “Valle dei cani” (“Dog Valley”), it is an incredible piece of the original Roman countryside, which has remained mostly unchanged since the seventeenth century. There are some colossal plane trees from the time of Cardinal Scipione.

Piazza di Siena (between viale dei Pupazzi and viale Pietro Canonica).

In this area, there used to be a grove fitted with nests for bird hunting, called “Gran Ragnaia”. Starting in 1792, Antonio Asprucci built a reservoir delimited by peperino tuff steps for horse races, inspired by the square of the home town of the Borghese family. Throughout the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century, after the public opening of the Villa, the square was used for popular festivals and events. Today, it is home to the International Horse Show, which takes place in May.

Il Giardino del Lago (Lake Garden – Via Madama Letizia, viale Pietro Canonica).

At the end of the 1700s, Marcantonio IV Borghese wanted to transform the “Licini plain” (holm oaks, Quercus ilex) into a fashionable garden. The architects Antonio and Mario Asprucci, along with gardeners and artists – including English landscaper Jacob More – took care of the work. Among the few examples of an English garden in the Roman area, this one is full of exotic plants such as banana trees, bamboo, and bald cypresses (Taxodium distichum). The lake, mimics a natural pond, with a classical temple dedicated to Aesculapius in the center. The structure is decorated with ancient sculptures restored by Vincenzo Pacetti.

Il Galoppatoio (“Horse-riding track”, also known as Villetta Doria – viale San Paolo del Brasile).

An original property of Cardinal Giuseppe Doria Pamphili, it used to be an English style garden built by Francesco Bettini, between 1785 and 1790. It was completely destroyed by French guns in 1849, along with “Casina di Raffaello” (Raffaello’s abode). Most luckily, some of Raffaello’s frescoes inside were saved in 1836, and are now exhibited in Museo Borghese. This area is now used as a riding track, having lost all its historical heritage due to the construction of an underground parking lot, in 1970.

I Giardini di Villa Giulia (Villa Giulia Gardens – piazzale Firdousi).

Built during the 1911 Universal Exposition, to decorate the new entrance of the staircase designed by Cesare Bazzani – connecting Valle Giulia to Villa Borghese – these gardens are delimited by balustrades and enriched with two neoclassical nymphaeums.

Il Bioparco (the Biopark)

Villa Borghese also houses Rome Zoo, recently turned into a Biopark and the Civic Museum of Zoology. The “Casina delle Rose” (“Rose hut”) is now the “Casa del Cinema” (“Cinema House”). Near the latter, there’s the “Cinema dei Piccoli” (“Children’s Cinema”), the smallest one in the world.

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)


Ingressi: Via Aldrovandi, Via Raimondi (2 ingressi), Via Pinciana (2 ingressi), Piazzale San Paolo del Brasile, Piazzale Flamini - Roma(RM)

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