The Palazzo Farnese and its namesake Piazza are located just meters from, and with a view of, the chaos of Campo de’ Fiori, but to traverse those few steps and enter a square adorned by fountains made of reclaimed tubs from the Baths of Caracalla and dominated by the imposing facade of this Renaissance palazzo turned French Embassy, is to enter an unanticipated solitude. The building itself, an example of Renaissance perfection borne from the minds of Antonio da Sangallo the younger and Michelangelo, was commissioned in the 16th century by Alexander Farnese, later to become Pope Paul III. And, since all good palazzi need a long, well-lit room in which to practice the various instruments one acquires living a life of Renaissance luxury, the first floor of the palazzo has just that, complete with vaulted ceiling frescoed by Annibale Carracci.
And so, if large, imposing palaces, the opportunity to cross into French territory, mythological fresco cycles, and visiting sites from famous operas (the second act of Puccini’s Tosca is set here) are your kinda thing, you’re in luck! Due to diplomatic regulations and whatnot, the Palazzo Farnese has never been one of the most accessible sites in Rome. Tours have long been available, but only led in French and Italian, and only available by sending in a copy of your passport once a year. However, the French Embassy recently launched a much simpler online ticket reservation system, and, wait for it, weekly tours in English! You need to provide your passport information (as well as bring identification with you when you go on the tour), and reserve at least one week ahead of time (probs to check INTERPOL or something before they let you in to the embassy), but if you find yourself with a spare Wednesday afternoon and 5 euro to burn, there are worse ways to spend it than meandering around a gorgeous Renaissance Palace with some pretty impressive ceilings.
Where: Palazzo Farnese, in Piazza Farnese, is between Campo de’ Fiori and Via Giulia
When: English tours take place every Wednesday afternoon at 3pm
How much: 5 euro, guided tour included
How: Visit the Inventer Rome website to reserve your spot, but remember to do it at least a week in advance
More info: Check out this great piece by Revealed Rome in the New York Times!