A Roman Holiday: Villa Dei Medici

If you follow my blog posts regularly, you must know by now that most of my travels have as starting point a book I have read. Setting my eyes on Villa Medici wasn’t by accident: I had heard, studied and seen movies about this family ever since I was a child. My grandmother was a bit of a history buff and besides the history lessons, she passed on to us juicy information from the books she read, including information regarding the well known rivalry between the Medici and the Borgia families. Growing up, I took everything she told us ad literam and was even up for confrontations with my teachers; sadly now I know that in history, with every bit of truth there is a bit of legend as well.

Still, that didn’t prevent me to visit their mansion, on the contrary, I was looking forward to it! The villa is located on top of the Pincian Hill next to Trinità dei Monti, very close to the Spanish Steps. To reach it, you have to cross a beautiful park.

Inside the park there are a couple of gorgeous buildings.

The Villa Medici, founded by Ferdinando I de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, has housed the French Academy in Rome since 1803. In ancient times, the site of the Villa Medici was part of the gardens of Lucullus, which passed it into the hands of the Imperial family through Messalina, who was murdered in the villa. Messalina was the third wife of the Roman Emperor Claudius and was a very beautiful, powerful and influential woman with a reputation for promiscuity (and .. yes: I read about her as well when I was a teenager 🙂 . She allegedly conspired against her husband and was executed on the discovery of the plot in the year 48AD. 

Before being acquired, the villa had long been abandoned to viticulture but after renovation, it became at once the first among Medici properties in Rome, intended to give concrete expression to the ascendancy of the Medici among Italian princes and assert their permanent presence in Rome. Under the Cardinal’s insistence, Roman bas-reliefs and statues were incorporated into the villa’s design. As a result the facades of the Villa Medici became a virtual open-air museum. A series of grand gardens recalled the botanical gardens created at Pisa and at Florence by the Cardinal’s father Cosimo I de Medici and sheltered plantations of pines, cypresses and oaks.

Ferdinando de’ Medici had a studiolo, a retreat for study and contemplation, built to the north east of the garden above the Aurelian wall. Now these rooms look onto Borghese gardens but would then have had views over the Roman countryside.

Wandering through the gardens, you come across the place where Messalina was executed. This is what the historian Tacitus wrote: “Messalina, meanwhile, in the gardens of Lucullus, was struggling for life, and writing letters of entreaty, as she alternated between hope and fury”. Alas, she was killed due to her treason right about where the purple flowers are now.

The gardens are beautiful and offer an oasis of fresh and scented air during the hot summer days. 

A breathtaking view of the Eternal City can be admired from the villa’s terrace. 

Personally I love how the reddish color of the buildings bring life to the blue sky and the abundantly green trees.
Although the villa is closed for visitation in the evening, the view over the Rome rooftops can still be admired. I found it ever so peaceful to watch the night fall from there and listen to the pulse of the city slowly quiet down.

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