Between 1802 and 1806 Valadier turned the main building into a palace, and transformed other buildings. He also laid out the park with symmetrical avenues around the palace. Numerous works of classical art, many of which were sculptures, were purchased to furnish the palace. Following the death of Giovanni, Alessandro commissioned the painter and architect Giovanni Battisti Caretti in 1832 to further develop the property. In addition to expanding the buildings, Caretti constructed several buildings in the park. These included the False Ruins, the Temple of Saturn, and the Tribuna con Fontana.
To plan and carry out other works Alessandro employed Quintiliano Raimondi for the theatre and orangerie (today known as the “Lemon-house”), and Giuseppe Jappelli, who was in charge of the entire south section of the grounds, which he transformed with avenues, small lakes, exotic plants and unusual buildings. These included the Swiss Hut (later rebuilt as the Casina delle Civette), the Conservatory, the Tower and Moorish Grotto, and the Tournament Field. The project culminated in 1842 with the erection of two pink granite obelisks that commemorated Alessandro’s parents.
In 1919 a large underground 3rd- and 4th-century Jewish catacomb was discovered in the north-west area of the grounds. In 1925 the Villa was given to Mussolini as a residence, where he remained until 1943, with few changes to the aboveground structures.
The attractions of the site are the Casino Nobile (the home of the Villa Museum and the collection of works by the Roman School), the Casino dei Principi (used for exhibitions and the home of the Roman School Archive), and the Museum of the Casina delle Civette.
The Casino Nobile
After decades of abandon, it has been renovated to the state it enjoyed in the middle of the nineteenth century, with a profusion of decorative elements by the best known artists of the time, such as Bertel Thorvaldsen, Francesco Podesti, Francesco Coghetti and Luigi Fioroni.
The focal point of the building is the magnificent Ballroom, which has two “orchestras” where the musicians would play during parties thrown by the Torlonia family. Ringing the Ballroom are rooms in Gothic, Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Classical styles, and on the upper floor there is even an Egyptian Room. Unique in the richness and splendour of its decorations, the room reflects the artistic culture of the age.
The rooms on the ground and first floors have been completely redecorated and are now home to the Villa Museum.
The museum in the villa contains a small collection of pieces of statuary from the Torlonia collection found in the Villa and several pieces found in the gardens. Giovanni and Alessandro were for almost a century leading figures in the field of art collecting. The works exhibited were in part produced by Bartolomeo Cavaceppi (1716–1799), an eighteenth-century sculptor, restorer and antiques dealer, following Giovanni’s purchase in 1800 of all the works in Cavaceppi’s studio.
Other exhibits come from other Torlonia properties and include pieces of the Villa’s furniture that managed to survive the years of neglect. Other exhibits include three plaster reliefs by Antonio Canova, a woman’s head in the style of Michelangelo, several pieces of furniture,and a marble pediment taken from a tomb on the Appian Way.
The Park of Villa Torlonia lies on the north boundary between the Municipality sections 2 and 3.
It covers 13.2 hectares and has a rich and complex past, socially and historically, particularly regarding the development of its landscaped grounds. It originally belonged to the Pamphilj family (from the late seventeenth to mid-eighteenth century) by whom it was used principally as a farm. This was typical of the properties at that time along the Via Nomentana and other areas that lay outside the city walls. Around 1760 it passed to the Colonna family but they did not change the property much and retained its “vineyard” character.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century the many farms that lined the Via Nomentana, with their orchards, vineyards and cane fields, were turned into magnificent residences, and it was
Giovanni Torlonia who started the trend when he began the transformation of his rural-style property into a sumptuous mansion, enhanced with various themed architectural outbuildings surrounded by nature.
The result is that Villa Torlonia has a differentiated and planimetric structure created by the different projects carried out by architects and landscape gardeners over the years: Valadier’s work (the architect for Giovanni Torlonia) in the north section of the park in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries has a traditional layout, with straight, symmetrical avenues of ilexes, some of which close to the principal Palace still remain; the arrangement of the south section, however, was the result of the more dramatic taste of Alessandro Torlonia (1828 to the end of the century), who had the park enlarged by the landscape gardener Giuseppe Jappelli. Jappelli gave the grounds a romantic, “English-style” atmosphere with the use of winding paths and imaginative exotic buildings.