Rome’s largest yet often over-looked public park, Villa Doria Pamphili, contains a stunning, mid- 17th century palace surrounded by garden mazes, jogging trails, fabulous fountains, a superb grotto and pine lined views of Rome from atop the Janiculum hill. Staying near here readily balances urban outings with Rome’s more tranquil, rustic side.
After a year residing among the historic center, I decided to find a room in the Monte Verde district, immediately south of the Janiculum hill. The main advantages of staying here were being within walking distance or short tram ride to Trastevere and Testaccio, views over looking Rome and the convenient access to Villa Doria Pamphili – one of my favorite parks anywhere, definitely worth knowing.
At almost 300 feet above the river Tiber, a magnificent “Horse of the Four Winds” Arch accents the park’s main gateway. With a 9 km perimeter, totaling 168 acres cut into elaborate trails, the best way to traverse the Villa’s entirety is by bike. Since very few maps though are placed in the park, confusion seems inevitable unless you bring your own map. On another note, the park provides free bathrooms and refreshing, potable water fountains are near park entrances.
What stands out most about this immense Villa is the exquisite Casino del Bel Respiro (Country House of the Beautiful Breath). Originally a summer retreat, the palace was a gift from Pope Innocent X to his nephew, Prince Camillo Pamphili. Set along the ancient Via Aurelia Antica, a medieval building already stood there in 1630 when the Pamphili gained ownership. They decided to build a separate palace with grandiose, protective walls that concealed a secret garden of hedged labyrinths, a luxurious, open-air theater and a simple, citrus grove. Outside the Casino walls, a small grotto of drips water down the base of a stone stairway connecting two trails.
By the 18th century, the Pamphili family was in decline and they had merged with the prominent Doria family from Genoa, combining their names. In 1849, the Villa’s rolling hills were the stage of one of the bloodiest battles in defense of the “Roman Republic” which expelled the French military from Rome, necessary to unify Italy. The Casino del Bel Respiro eventually was sold in parts to a series of wealthy foreigners until the Italian state purchased the entire Villa in 1957 and established a public park there in 1971. Today, the Baroque, white palace hosts dinners for the government’s most important guests. However, during June and July the Teatro Villa Pamphili hosts children’s theater, music, dance and cabaret events open to the public. Tours of the Casino are available only by private appointment.
Of all the things to do here, most often I would have play pick up soccer and have long walks or jogs, sometimes picnics, with friends. Since the park is free of traffic noise, I would also arrive for solitary purposes, such as drawing pine and olive trees in an oasis of peace. The park’s reputation for clean air is quite alluring and the air is noticeably better there. Romans call Villa Pamphili one of the city’s two green lungs, the other being Villa Ada to the far north. Despite comparable merits, Villa Pamphili feels far less touristic than the more eminent Villa Borghese. Both, however, supply a lovely and necessary breather from Rome’s cultural potency and metropolitan demands.
One can easily stay a whole day here wandering wooded areas of dry Mediterranean brush, sweeping lawns, idyllic meadows and pensive statues. There are even ruins of a necropolis to be found. I especially loved the pond which is home to swans, ducks and turtles – an ideal mid-way resting place. Given the park’s many enticements, our apartments near Villa Pamphili are especially well suited for those who wish to relax in a memorable park after exhausting themselves in Rome’s inexhaustible center.