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  • Day2

    Villa Farnese

    May 8, 2015 in Italy ⋅ 19 °C

    This for me was the visit that I knew least about and I think we can safely say Peter had never heard of! As with the day before, we travelled for an hour or so before arriving in the tiny hamlet dominated by the Villa Farnese. Build by the Farnese family in the C16th, initially as a fortress, it was redesigned as a summer Palazzo by one of it's number who hit the heights of power and wealth as Pope Paul 3rd. His grandson Alexander carried on with the redeveloping and the papacy and I think it is fair to say that's the Farnese family were influential all over Europe for some 100 years having married into other similar dynasties. On approach you see an immense square golden building, symmetrical and relatively simple in design. Typically, it is set on the summit of a hill with commanding views over the spectacular countryside, hence controlling all 'traffic' for miles around. I'm not quite sure what we were expecting, but we were stunned on having passed through an exquisitely frescoed entrance/ guard hall to find that this rectangular building was in fact constructed around a circular courtyard. There are 5 storeys, the ground and first floor being the main family and guest living quarters. These two floors are accessed from a colonnaded circular corridor open to the central courtyard and they are totally covered in the most amazing frescos, still in fantastic condition considering their age and the fact that they are open to the elements, albeit sheltered. We passed through a series of fantastic rooms that yet again were painted in the most incredible style, gilded and with every illusory effect known to the world of art. I have seen some beautiful buildings but nothing quite like this for the sheer artistry of the decoration. One can only imagine what the end result looked like when it was finally completed after 15 years, with it's furniture and rugs and tapestries in place. One would have been left in no doubt as to the wealth and power of the Farnese family, which was of course the whole purpose of the exercise.
    School is coming to its year end here in Italy and so we had to run the gauntlet of various groups of schoolchildren on school trips. They were largely wildly disinterested and full of fun and chatter. I don't think I ever saw one of them look up at the sensationally painted ceilings that adorn every room. The old adage came to mind 'Education is wasted on the young!'
    Finally we emerged into the sunshine and the garden, which was of course to us of particular interest. The garden was designed by the same architect involved at Villa Lante and you can see the similarities. Walls covered in wisteria and banksia lutea roses in full bloom. A vision of lilac and lemon, with a fragrance to knock you out. We progressed through the manicured woodland, full of camellias and azaleas again in full bloom, wild irises of deep purple and white Arum italicum pictum in swathes through the trees. It is silent apart from birdsong and you truly feel you are in an earthly paradise. The idea was to aid contemplation and meditation, helpful of course to a family heavily engaged in the papacy and international diplomacy! The path winds up through the woodland and suddenly out of the trees looms a fountain and rilled slope leading up the a fabulous formal garden and the pleasure palace ((Palazzo Piacere - sounds so much better in Italian!) as it was known. This is some distance away from the main palazzo and perhaps one does not need too much imagination to guess what type of pleasure was involved here. The idea of celibacy and the Catholic Church had not yet come to the fore! Interestingly, Prince Charles stayed here on a visit to Rome and one could imagine he was most appreciative of the setting! Italian formal gardens are all about shade, texture of the greenery, clipped box hedges, statuary and water and by and large colour is absent. Beautiful fountains are surrounded by what appears to be monochrome Persian carpets constructed from pebbles set in concrete or the equivalent of the day, to emulate mosaic. The structure of the garden needs considerable restoration to be seen at its best, but it does not require much imagination to visualise how this estate must have looked in it's heyday. Here, yet again, the owner displays the family wealth and culture so that visitors would have been under no illusion as to the status of their hosts.
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