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Villa Celimontana: a jewel in the center of a unique territory

Located in the heart of Rome Villa Celimontana is rich in history and culture and is an oasis of tranquility and beauty. The villa has a special location, on the south side of the Colle Celio, in the midst of very important monuments and archaeological areas.

Five references out of all: the Colosseo to the north, the Circo Massimo and Palatino to the northwest, the Terme of Caracalla to the south, and San Giovanni in Laterano. It was built in the 16th century; its history is linked to the noble families who owned it and the famous artists who worked there.

A story of continuous transformation

The area on which Villa Celimontana stands today in the first half of the 16th century was a vineyard belonging to the Paluzzelli family. In 1553 Giacomo Mattei bought the vineyard for 1,000 gold “scudi”, but it was Ciriaco Mattei who turned it into a villa in 1580. The commission was given to architect Giacomo Del Duca, an assistent of Michelangelo, who built the building and park, enriching them with the Mattei family’s notable works of art.

Changing ownership several times, the original building had many renovations, and was probably different from today. Mostly one-story, instead of the current two, and perhaps the present-day quadrangular floor plan was also different.

The villa belonged to the Matteis until 1802. After numerous changes of ownership the Italian state finished the Great War and confiscated it from the German owners. In 1926 it was given to the City of Rome, which used it as a public park, and the building was donated to the Italian Geographical Society.

Previously, in 1923, with a view to opening to the public, the most relevant sculptures were brought to the National Roman Museum.

The main buildings of Villa Celimontana

In 1889 archaeological excavations revealed the presence of the Basilica Hilariana, built by Manius Publicius Hilarus, which has very distinctive mosaics. But the most important building in Villa Celimontana is the Palazzina Mattei. The monumental portal, a 1931 reconstruction of that of Villa Giustiniani Massimo, is remarkable.

Inside the palace numerous paintings in neoclassical style between the sacred and profane, with references to mythology. In the Mosaic Room, a fresco from 1621 with Spring receiving a vase as a gift from Apollo-Sun in the presence of Juno can be admired. In the same room protected by glass on the floor is a Roman mosaic from the 3rd century AD found in the park.

Notable are the Library, with more than 400 thousand volumes of geography, and the Cartoteca with more than 200 thousand ancient and extremely rare documents. Striking is an early 15th-century wooden globe in which America is obviously missing.

In the villa, near the entrance, was the barracks of the Fifth Cohort of Vigils, the remains of which from the Trajan period were seen in archaeological excavations.

The beauties of the park of the Villa

The “Italian-style” garden was the work of architects Giovanni and Domenico Fontana, to whom we owe the setting of the obelisk, which we will discuss later. The villa also possessed beautiful fountains by Bernini that have unfortunately been destroyed or disappeared. Among those still intact are the Fountain of the Palms and the Fountain of the Shell.

The gardens of the villa are an explosion of colors and scents, thanks to the rich variety of plants and trees present. Among the most striking are centuries-old trees such as pines, cypresses, plane trees, and magnolias, which create picturesque and shady settings. In the park, opened to the public by the Mattei family, St. Philip Neri used to refresh pilgrims visiting the Seven Churches: a ritual he initiated in 1552.

Today, Villa Celimontana is open to the public and offers space for concerts, art exhibitions and cultural events. Visitors can enjoy relaxing walks among the historic gardens and admire the ancient Roman ruins that enrich the landscape.

The obelisk deserves its own paragraph

To the left of the Palazzina Mattei, at the end of the central avenue, is the obelisk that has been very well restored to its original beauty.

The obelisk at Villa Celimontana, moved in 1817 by Antonio Celles at the request of Prince Godoy, symbolizes Egyptian art in Rome. Having replaced the 16th-century base, the new placement was tragic: a worker lost a hand and part of an arm.

This obelisk, with hieroglyphics honoring Ramesses II, represents a part of Rome’s ancient history. Originally in the Temple of the Sun at Heliopolis, it was an ornament in the Temple of Isis along with those now in Piazza della Minerva and the Baths of Diocletian.

Before Villa Celimontana, it adorned the Capitoline steps in the 14th century. Legend has it that the globe at the top contained the ashes of Augustus and was erected by Cola di Rienzo as a symbol of Roman freedom.

With the Blog of Rome and Latium Region Around Rome guides you to discover places and territories for the pleasure of satisfying curiosity and putting culture at the service of people and businesses.

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Edited by il NETWORK | text Andrea Franchini | photo  Ezio Bocci

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