Palazzo Farnese - Caprarola

Palazzo Farnese di Caprarola, or Villa Farnese, is one of the most fascinating examples of a Renaissance residence in all of Europe. It has five floors, dozens of rooms, frescoed rooms, public and private areas and grounds with fabulous gardens. An interesting fact is that the building was initially conceived as a defensive structure. In fact, its origins date back to 1530, when Cardinal Alessandro Farnese commissioned Antonio Sangallo to build a fortress in Caprarola. Sangallo designed a powerful pentagonal structure and a strong bastion with very thick walls. A few years later, though, in 1534, the cardinal became Pope Paul III and the work was halted. Thirty years later Alessandro Farnese the Younger, nephew of Paul III, also a cardinal, retired to Caprarola, to escape the bloody family battles driven by envy and rivalries of other aristocratic families for power over the papacy. In 1555, he hired the architect Jacopo Birozzi da Vignola, called il Vignola, to continue building a sumptuous residence instead of the original fortress on the pre-existing massive bases of a military construction. Following the construction of this grandiose palace, built in just 27 years, a series of works began to adapt the urban layout of Caprarola to the architectural needs of the Palazzo. Some buildings were demolished to build bridges and create a new wide elevated access road, in line with the building, called “La via Dritta – The Straight Road”, today Via Filippo Nicolai. The building has five storeys, including the underground areas, and is surrounded by a large moat. It has a pentagonal shape and a circular internal courtyard. In memory of the ancient fortress design, four corners are reinforced by ramparts with terraces at the level of the main floor, while the fifth has a tower above the roof. The palace is accessed via a double staircase, whose ramps at first diverge and then converge towards the main door. The servants’ quarters were separate from the cardinal’s living area and were actually carved out of the thick walls. Vignola also created the frescoes on the internal staircase (the Scala Regia – Royal Staircase). It is a magnificent spiralling staircase that rests on 30 Doric columns. Legend has it that the steps were wide enough that the cardinal could ride directly up to the main floor on horseback.