National Museum of Villa Giulia Ancient Rome and Renaissance Italy

This Roman Museum was founded in 1889. Its purpose was to assemble all pre-Ancient Roman artefacts of the Latium, southern Etruria, and Umbria regions, which belonged to the Etruscan and Faliscan civilizations. Its official name is now the National Museum of Villa Giulia. The principal artistic legacy of the Etruscans was their sarcophagi, bronze sculptures and terracotta vases; many of the best ones are here, such as the Apollo from Veio, Dea con Bambino or Goddess with a baby, and Hercules, although the most famous one could be Sacrofago degli Sposi, or the bride and bridegroom coffin. These all date from the VIth Century B.C. and were found in the region of Cerveteri, north of Rome.

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Fans of Etruscan art and history should come here. There are some amazing and startling pieces on display from the major pre-Roman civilization in Italy. Popes used to live here and the house retains some element of papal splendour. The world of popes in the XVIth Century did not resemble that of the present. Popes had both temporal and spiritual power leading armies and conspiracies to conquer lands and eliminate opponents. Almost all holders of immense power have places to ostentatiously display it; houses and palaces were built all across Italy for this purpose.

Entrance to this fabulous Villa in Rome

The house grew from a papal residence to a museum of art in the late XIXth Century as papal power waned in Italy during the Risorgimento period in the 1870s that unified the Italian peninsula and resulted in the loss of many of their possessions.

The house was built for Pope Julius III who reigned from 1550 to 1555. The architects were Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola and B. Ammanati. Thought of as a Villa Suburbana or party villa, the construction began in 1551 and ended in 1553. Papal possessions were quite extensive and since many popes came from rich powerful families, they naturally sought to extend their family’s wealth through their position. Pope Julius III was no exception. The house and its lands are comprised of three parts in the area of Porta del Pololo and Ponte Milvio; all of which are centred on vineyards. The first two are referred as the ‘old vineyard’ and ‘vineyard of the port,’ but sadly the second no longer exists as it either collapsed or was built over despite its leading to the sea and comprising a small port whenever the pope came via the river. The last part, known as the ‘vineyard of pope Julius,’ is the house and the area surrounding it.

One of the many parts of wondererous architectural interestest within the Villa

If we look at the Villa Giulia artistically on its own, a few things come to mind, namely that one can discern two worlds being joined, which are Italy in the Renaissance and ancient Rome. The entrance and garden represent the two parts. Let us assume that you are a student of architecture, which should lead you to conclude that the building is a lovely example of Mannerism, an XVIth Century style of architecture characterized by inventiveness and imagination.

Some of the ceilings within are works of art in themselves

The front is a Doric-pilastered two-storey facade with a triumphal arch, while the rear has a large loggia, or open-aired gallery, overlooking the main courtyard. The Villas centre is the Nympheum, which is a building on three levels around a spectacular fountain, Fontana dell’Acqua Vergine, which shows river gods and caryatids, or a column in the form of a statue of a woman. Interestingly, this fountains’ source is the same as that of the Trevi in the centre of Rome. Each of the three vineyards was carefully tended.

Julius III’s short reign did not permit him to take advantage of its beauty for too long. Marcellus II briefly succeeded him, but under Paul IV, whose ascetic character led him to transfer many papal possessions to the ownership of the Holy See instead of the pope’s family, the house was left to ruin, and it was then parcelled up and given to various papal family members under Pius IV. It was partially restored in 1769 under Clement XIV, and was sometimes used as a temporary residence for foreign visitors prior to their entry via the Porta del Popolo to see the pope. The collapse of papal power in 1871 led to the popes abandoning all their possessions except for the Vatican City to the new state of Italy. The result of which was the transforming of many papal residences into public buildings. In the case of the Villa Giulia, it became a store and military hospital leading to an increasing state of disrepair.

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