Villa Doria Pamphilj is one of the largest parks of Rome, located in an area that was once outside the walls of the city. It’s a gorgeous place to visit, whether you are looking to get away from the tourist crowds of Rome (it’s one of Rome’s hidden gems), or simply want to find some shade, clean and fresh air during your time in the city.
In this post, I highlight what you need to know to visit this incredible place.
Make sure to read my post The Nicest Gardens And Parks In Rome.
The History Of Villa Doria Pamphilj
Villa Doria Pamphilj is one of Rome’s landmark properties, and plays host to the largest landscaped public park in the city. The history of this historic villa is inextricably connected to the Pamphilj family (the same of Doria Pamphilj Gallery). The powerful family was one of the Papal families, who were influential in the Catholic church and Italian politics in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Before the Pamphilj family got their hands on the land in 1630, there was already another villa located on the grounds. This old villa was purchased by Pamfilio Pamphilj, who had recently married heiress Olimpia Maidalchini; the pair wanted to buy a nice suburban villa to relax away from Rome’s city center.
Following the purchase of the villa, the nobleman swiftly snapped up the surrounding vineyards to extend the boundaries of his newly bought property, creating a much larger area. This part of the city was known as a Bel Respiro, or “Beautiful Breath”, due to its location on a hill above the lower areas of Rome which were prone to malaria.
This location on higher ground also meant that the views were impressive – one of the most desirable features for the location of a Baroque villa at the time.
Another member of the family, Cardinal Giambattista Pamphilj, was elected pope in 1644 and took the name Pope Innocent X. Because of his rise to power, his family wanted a grander and more luxurious villa on the site of the land they had purchased.
Designs were drawn up and the project was finally given to the Bolognese sculptor, Alessandro Algardi, who was helped out by Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi, an architect and artist.
Construction on the central casino, or small country house, began in 1645. It featured a central, circular room with other chambers leading off from it. The property was completed just two years later in 1647 and was sometimes referred to as the Casino del Bel Respiro.
Its design was somewhat more Mannerist than Baroque, pointing back to structures of the past – such as at Villa Medici – in an attempt to cement a longstanding legacy of the Pamphilj family in antiquity.
It had been made to host the family’s collection of opulent sculptures that had been sourced from the ancient and contemporary art world; this also included sarcophagi, vases and other items of antiquity.
In fact, the casino had been used almost entirely as a gallery to host this private collection. The family and guests would stay elsewhere, in the older Vecchia Vigna. The casino, which was ornate itself, was further overcrowded with sculptures and pieces of art taking up room in niches and hollowed roundels – a sensory overload.
Surrounding the Casino del Bel Respiro, the property’s landscaped gardens mark one of the most famous parts of the Villa Doria Pamphilj. The casino is set on the slope of a hill, with various gardens that surround it.
On the sloping side, the gardens were designed by the nephew of Pope Innocent X, Camillo Pamphilj, in 1650. It was a formal design with clipped hedges in geometric patterns, neat woodlands, and a rusticated grotto. Fountains pooled into a canal that ran through the property; this was a reminder for viewers of the Canopus at Hadrian’s Villa, and yet another attempt to connect the Pamphilj family to the opulence and power of Imperial Rome.
The lower land on the south side of the building became the Giardino Segreto (“Secret Garden”). This terrace was only visible from the casino and the upper terraces, and was planted with orange trees, lawns and clipped hedges.
Although the Pamphilj family attempted to seal their own legacy through the architecture and gardens of the villa, when Girolamo Pamphilj died in 1760 he left no male heirs. The loss of the family line led to disputes as to who might be the possible heir to the estate.
It was finally settled in 1763 when Prince Giovanni Andrea IV Doria was granted the right to take the surname, the coat of arms and the properties of the Pamphilj family by order of Pope Clement XIII.
His claim was based on a marriage between his predecessor, Prince Giovanni Andrea III Doria, and Anna Pamphilj. From that moment on, the villa was called Villa Doria Pamphilj.
This latter half of the 18th century ushered in a continuation of developments for the villa’s landscaped gardens. A number of features were added throughout this time period, by architects that were retained by the family. Features such as fountains and gateways attributed to Gabriele Valvassori among others.
Many more changes were made to the gardens following the Napoleonic-era of the early 19th century. Carpet bedding featuring various flowers were added, as well as English landscape gardens and more naturalistic elements. The grounds also included various elements to intrigue visitors to the villa. These surprising features included grottoes and chance viewpoints.
Another thing to note is that, while the influential English gardens of the day often used follies and faux ruins as part of their “natural” landscapes, the English garden employed at Villa Doria Pamphilj had the bonus of including a scattering of genuine Roman remains throughout the landscape.
The site actually featured several tombs that yielded artifacts later added to the collection at the Casino del Bel Respiro.
During the tumultuous unification of Italy, Villa Doria Pamphilj was actually fortified. In fact, some of the fiercest fighting of this time occurred near the villa, when students joined the ranks of Garibaldi’s army to defend Rome from French troops.
The bombardment by the French led to the destruction of the nearby Villa Corsini (sometimes called Casino dei Quattro Venti for its airy situation). This was used as an opportunity for the Doria Pamphilj family to extend their grounds by purchasing the ruined land of Villa Corsini.
With their property now almost doubled, the family erected a monumental commemorative arch on the site of the former villa: The Arco dei Quattro Venti. This is still the main entrance to the Villa Doria Pamphilj today.
Long kept from the public gaze, the Casino del Bel Respiro was purchased by the Italian state in 1957 and was used as a ministry building, still filled with much of the collection of art and antiquities. The gardens were purchased from the family in 1965 and opened as a public park.
What To See When Visiting Villa Doria Pamphilj
Casino del Bel Respiro
This is the main building situated within the grounds of the Villa Doria Pamphilj, a white building, proudly angular among the natural sloping greenery. Though it’s closed to the public and still owned by the Italian government, just catching sight of this Mannerist-style building is enough to understand the importance and power of the Pamphilj family at the time it was built.
Spanning four storeys, and buttressed by staircases, the villa’s facades are carved with stuccos, reliefs and freizes. Grecian statues stand within niches and pale blues accent the windows, adding brightness to the scene. Seeing it within the grounds itself is a wonderful sight, even if you can’t enter the casino to see its ornate interiors.
Casale di Giovio
Over in the western section of the Villa Doria Pamphilj is the Casale di Giovio, a former farmhouse purchased by the family in the 19th century. Near this building is an ancient Roman tomb where various funerary objects were discovered. The farmhouse can still be seen to this day and gives an intriguing insight into the rustic, more rural origins of the Villa Doria Pamphilj.
Fontana del Tevere o del Gigante
This fountain was the creation of Italian architect Gabriele Valvassori, who worked on the villa between 1720 and 1739. This particular fountain features a depiction of the Roman river god (here representing the River Tiber), carved out of volcanic tuff. It’s unusual that tuff was used, and not marble, for the sculpture of the god laid out across the top of the fountain; that’s because tuff is dark, blocky and not best used for fine sculpture.
The Trajan Aqueduct was first commissioned by Emperor Trajan in 109 AD, to bring water from springs in the countryside to Trastevere, an area which did not yet have access to running water. Stretching for more than 50 kilometers (31 miles), the aqueduct flowed mainly underground until it reached the Via Aurelia, where it went along archways, before finally reaching the Janiculum Hill.
In 1612, Pope Paul V changed the name of the aqueduct to Acqua Paola. Parts of it can still be seen at Villa Doria Pamphilj; that’s because, when the Pamphilj family purchased more land, parts of it contained stretches through which the Trajan Aqueduct ran.
Arco dei Quattro Venti
The Arco dei Quattro Venti (“Arch of the Four Winds”) commemorates one of the bloodiest battles of the Risorgimento (meaning “Rising Again”) of the mid to late 19th century, which led to the formation of the Kingdom of Italy. The arch itself sits on the site of the Villa Corsini, which was sometimes referred to as Casino dei Quattro Venti, due to its well-ventilated position.
It features two gates and one main archway, and is topped with four limestone sculptures representing the Four Winds, created by Luigi Roversi. The arch is also fitted with two quadrangular parts above the smaller gates that were designed to house sculpture decorations that were never actually added.
Other decorations include marble busts and sarcophagi, while inside there’s a chamber that houses an epigraph which describes the battle here in 1849. You’ll also be able to notice the coat of arms of Pope Innocent X that adorns the structure.
Fontana del Mascherone
Situated close to the Via Aurelia Antica gates to the park is this eye-catching fountain. The sculptural water feature is similar to others found around the city, which have at their center a mask with water pouring from the mouth into a basin or shell. Dolphins also adorn this particular fountain.
It is possible that, due to its proximity to the Via Aurelia, this fountain was a place where people could come for drinking water. While nobody is entirely certain where the ancient mask is from, it seems to be a depiction of a satyr.
Practical Info About Visiting Villa Doria Pamphilj
Villa Doria Pamphilj opening times
Villa Doria Pamphilj is open daily, except the third Wednesday of each month, 1st January, the Easter weekend and 25th December.
Between October and February park is open from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm, in March and September it’s open from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm, and from April to August it’s open from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm.
Visiting Villa Doria Pamphilj is completely free.
Should you get a guided tour?
You don’t need to take a tour to enjoy this landscaped park. However, for those who really want to get a deeper understanding of the history of Villa Doria Pamphilj, and discover more about the designs, the Roman ruins and landscape of the area, a tour would be recommended. After all, this is Rome’s biggest landscaped park and there is much to see in the vicinity. A tour guide will help you understand more about the importance of this landmark of the city.
As this is a lesser visited place by tourists, the online offer for guided tours is limited. You would be better off asking your hotel to recommend a guide. Or else, you can get in touch with Touriks via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. They are a reputable local company has excellent guides – I have roamed the city lots of times with them. They don’t sell a tour of the gardens, but they will be able to organize one for you. Feel free to mention my name when you contact them!
Toilets can be found in several locations in Villa Doria Pamphilj. The main ones are located near the Via Vitellia entrance.
The park is accessible to disabled visitors, however many of the paths around the gardens consist of gravel which can be particularly difficult to navigate for wheelchair users.
How to get there
If you’re coming from Rome Termini, you can reach the Villa Doria Pamphilj by catching metro line A to Ottaviano metro station, then changing for the number 982 bus. Get off at Via Pamphilj (it takes around 40 minutes).
If you’re driving, you can park for free at the Via Leone XIII entrance. It’s easy to reach if you’re staying in Trastevere, however, taking around 30 minutes to reach on foot.
Looking for more parks in Rome? Read these posts!
- A Guide To Visiting Villa Borghese Gardens
- The Complete Guide To Visiting The Vatican Gardens, Rome
- A Guide To The Parco Degli Acquedotti, Rome
- What You Need To Know About Villa Celimontana, Rome