The Villa Farnese at Caprarola

Villa Farnese, Caprarola

After visiting Bomarzo, we still had a good chunk of the afternoon so we decided to visit the Villa Farnese at Caprarola which is not too far from Bomarzo. The Farnese family who were landowners in this part of the country had an important and complicated history. At the risk of being boring, I’m going to give you a short summary as I was quite confused by the number of Farnese palaces so I read about the family. The Farnese were originally soldiers and landowners but gained recognition and status when in the 14th century, they fought for the papal states, were gifted land by the popes of the time and married into noble Roman families. Giulia Farnese, noted for her beauty and known as Giulia La Bella became the lover of Pope Alexander VI, Roderigo Borgia, who was appointed Pope in 1492. She persuaded him to favour her brother Alessandro who was subsequently appointed as Cardinal-Deacon at the age of 25 by Pope Alexander VI even though he hadn’t yet been consecrated as a priest. Understandably, he became referred to as ‘the petticoat cardinal’.
Although he did become a priest and was pious, he had a Roman mistress from a noble family with whom he fathered four children. Highly capable and with wide artistic and philosophic tastes, he became powerful and rich building the noted Palazzo Farnese in Rome. It was he who started building the Villa Farnese at Caprarola but building was stopped when he became Pope (Paul III) in 1534. He had a successful reign, bringing in various reforms to the church during the Counter Reformation, instituting the Council of Trent, and achieving many positive things in the church. However, he favoured his family and it is to him that we owe the word ‘nepotism’. The word ‘nipote’ in Italian can mean nephew, niece or grandchild. Pope Paul appointed two of his grandsons as cardinals, one of them also called Alessandro who was only 14 years old at the time. It was Alessandro the younger, a man of great culture and a patron of the arts, who commissioned the architect Vignola to complete the Villa at Caprarola in 1559.

The villa has a pentagonal shape with a circular courtyard in the centre and a wide stair case on one side (wide enough to accomodate a horse) going up five floors. The photos below are just a taste as the frescoes were truly spectacular even though the light was poor by the time we saw them. Click on the link for more pictures and a detailed layout of the castle.

The piano nobile or main floor has large frescoed rooms. Above this are the winter apartments facing west decorated with contemplative scenes and the summer apartments facing east focused on scenes of an active life.

Both the summer and winter apartments lead to a large Rennaisance garden which unfortunately wasn’t at it’s best at this time of year. One crosses a bridge over a moat to go into the garden. Unfortunately, the only plants in flower were a few camellias.

On exiting from the formal garden, one goes through a wood at the end of which is a grand surprise. A beautiful summerhouse with two loggia for dining. Perched on top of a small rise, the approach is lined with cascading fountains and statuary.

As you can see, the fountains had not yet been turned on. The garden must be spectacular a little later in the year and I will have to visit the villa again early in the summer to see them at their best.

Our adventure for that day finished with dinner in a restaurant close to where I live but there were more trips to come which I shall tell you about in my next post.

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