by Irina Gusin
Romans and ex-pats alike all have picks for their favorite villas in the city. Some enjoy the grand views from the centrally located Villa Borghese, while others prefer the great scale of Villa Pamphili for an evening run. This past weekend I discovered a treasure off of Via Nomentana which is now my favorite place to read a book, ponder art, and people-watch.
Villa Torlonia does not seem that special from the gates on the street. In fact I’ve taken the bus many times right by it, noting its location but not giving it a passing thought. Recently someone had mentioned that Mussolini used to reside there and that is when my interest was piqued.
The villa was rented by Mussolini from the 1920s to 1943 but originally constructed for a banker in the 1800s (hence the Torlonia name). Don’t be fooled when you first walk through the gates – the park is actually much bigger than it seems! If you walk through the gardens uphill you will see a short wall which is in fact one side of a promenade currently littered with statues from a seasonal art exhibit (including an absolutely gargantuan representation of the iconic Sailor Kissing the Nurse photograph from 1945). Past the display are windy paths that will lead you around the park which has plenty of nooks for picnicking, sun-tanning, and staring into the eyes of your Italian lover. It’s spacious enough for throwing around a frisbee, and Rome’s gorgeous greenery lines many scenic spots.
Perhaps the best treat is the chance to check out the Casina delle Civette (House of the Owls) which, architecturally, really is unlike any other building that I have seen in Rome. It looks like a Bavarian chalet, has porticos and turrets popping out of unexpected places and features many exquisite stained glass windows. It houses a museum but walking around the outside of the building is just as fun and FREE!
Where: Via Nomentana, 70
How Much: FREE if you’re going to the park but you can also choose to see the museums throughout the villa for a total of 10 Euro
Why: Aren’t you a little fed up getting stuck in the middle of a Segway tour in the Villa Borghese?