Ode to the Weird 19th Century: the Villa Torlonia

palm trees at the entrance
palm trees at the entrance

I got back to Rome the other day and fighting jet-lag decided to head out into the breach to run some errands. While on the metro my dear companion (not me I might add, Italians rarely ask me for directions) was asked by three Italian ragazzi for directions to the Villa Torlonia. Despite his general awesomeness and his rather convincing language skills, directions are not necessarily his forte so he tends to rely on me for my Magellan-like sense of navigation. So it was me, blonde, mumble-y me, who directed those kids to the Villa Torlonia (scende a Termini, poi prendere l’autobus 90…).

one of the museums and wait for it... another obelisk!
one of the (nicely doric) museums and wait for it… another obelisk!

Now, I don’t if those kids were Romani, but they were mos def Italiani, so it goes to show that love and recognition of the Villa Torlonia needs to be shared. Because the Villa Torlonia is righteous. It was built in the 19th century but has a fascinating more recent history, including serving as the residence for Mussolini for 13 years, then occupied by Allied forces later in the War. There’s a Jewish catacomb tucked under one edge and restoration of the park has been ongoing for decades. Aside from this cool history, if you want to see actual Romans enjoying themselves outdoors in their natural habitat plus a few little museums and some weirdo pseudo- historical architecture (which I’ll explain more in a minute),  the Villa Torlonia is the place for you.

palm trees short enough to climb on!
palm trees short enough to climb on!
it's man! don't attack me!
it’s man! don’t attack me!

So amongst all the Romans and palm trees and museums and sculptures are a few strange architectural gems. It seems that the 19th century (and later) owners of the Villa were big into the trend of building faux little structures that were evocative of particular locales or historical epochs like grecian temples or pyramids and the like. However at the Villa Torlonia the faux architecture trend cropped up with the supremely awesome “Swiss Hut” which later became the Casina delle Civette (little house of the little owls- I die of cuteness!) and the “Moorish Grotto” among others.

Casina delle Civette it all its glory
Casina delle Civette it all its glory
pretty pretty "Moorish Grotto"
pretty pretty “Moorish Grotto,” which still needs restoration

There were tons of other examples of pseudo-historical architecture, like a medieval-ish cloister, false ruins, greek-ish temples, a tournament field, and a conservatory, but my photos of those are lousy. Regardless, here’s to 19th century weirdness and the Villa Torlonia!


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