Our beautiful Rome has many parks. Some are famous and always crowded like the central Villa Borghese or the elegant Villa Pamphilj, while others are little known, undeservingly so. One of these is Villa Torlonia park, a relatively small urban garden, but packed with history, artwork, and green spaces.
Like many of Rome’s parks, also Villa Torlonia was the residence of a noble family. Unlike some of the most famous parks, like the same Villa Pamphilj where the beautiful Casino del Bel Respiro palace is not open to public tours, here all the buildings can be visited.
A mix of ancient history and modern buildings, Villa Torlonia is a fascinating place to visit to perceive the layers of Rome’s history, culture, and society. This fantastic park is located in an elegant Roman neighborhood, the Nomentano quarter which not many people know about but that is packed with secrets and hidden gems.
Villa Torlonia park is not huge. It’s certainly much smaller than Villa Borghese, Villa Ada, and Villa Pamphilj. But it’s so rich in things to see and do that only this makes it a place worth taking a bus or the metro and get away from the city center for half a day.
With our guide, we hope to inspire you to visit Villa Torlonia and help you get around and make the most out of your tour.
Table of Contents
- 1 History of Villa Torlonia Park in Rome
- 2 What to see and do in Villa Torlonia Park
- 3 What to see around Villa Torlonia
- 4 Where to eat near Villa Torlonia
- 5 Plan your visit: practical information
History of Villa Torlonia Park in Rome
The very first building of Villa Torlonia appears in documents dating to the 17th century as a property of the powerful Pamphilj family. Later acquired by the Colonna clan, in 1797 it was sold to Giovanni Torlonia.
A banker of French origins, Giovanni Torlonia settled in Rome in the 18th century and is the mind behind the huge financial and social rise of the Torlonia family that soon became the owner of several lands and buildings in Rome and its surroundings.
The new owner put in charge of the first revamping of the villa the famous Italian architect Giuseppe Valadier, the same architect creator of Piazza del Popolo‘s current look. After this first renovation, the son of Giuseppe Torlonia, Alessandro, ordered several other works, including the addition of new buildings and lavish furnishing between 1835 and 1840.
Under Alessandro Torlonia, the villa reached such a sumptuous splendor to be able to compete with the major Roman villas. Among the works, Alessandro Torlonia ordered the expansion of the Casino Nobile, the largest building of the park, the renovation of Casino dei Principi, and of the old stables (Vecchie Scuderie).
Venetian architect and engineer Giuseppe Jappelli was in charge of creating an English-style garden and unconventional buildings like Capanna Svizzera (Swiss Hut), a tournaments’ field, and the Moorish-style Greenhouse and Tower. The building of a large theater and a lemon house was commissioned to local architect Quintiliano Raimondi.
In the 20th century, Capanna Svizzera was turned into Casina delle Civette, the Owls’ House, a lovely and quirky building we can visit today.
Villa Torlonia is known to have been the Roman residence of Duce Benito Mussolini. In fact, Mussolini rented Casino Nobile between 1925 and 1943 for the symbolic amount of 1 Lira per year. In those years, prince Giovanni Torlonia jr. was living in the Casina delle Civette.
The death of the last heir of the Torlonia family that happened in 1938 marked the beginning of the decline of the villa. The situation was inevitably made worse by the devastating occupation of the Anglo-American army between 1944 and 1947.
Villa Torlonia was abandoned for many years until 1978 when Rome’s local council acquired it. This is when a thorough work of renovation started across all the buildings. Today, each building has its own purpose and they all are open to visitors.
Mussolini in Villa Torlonia
Benito Mussolini lived in the Casino Nobile of Villa Torlonia park with all his family for almost 20 years. Even though some famous public events and parties were held here, such as the wedding of his daughter Edda in 1930 and the official visit of Mahatma Gandhi in 1931, this was really the private residence and space of the Mussolini family.
Apart from some modernization of the working areas such as kitchens and laundry rooms, and the building of two additional bathrooms on the large terrace (later removed), the Mussolinis left untouched the building and the original furnishing.
Apart from Casino Nobile, the Mussolini family used also other buildings of Villa Torlonia. Vittorio Mussolini moved to live in the Villino Medievale (medieval cottage), while the wife of Bruno Mussolini moved to Casino dei Principi after the death of her husband in a plane crash.
During WWII, the park of Villa Torlonia was used partially as a vegetable garden, and partially as a farm for chickens, pigs, and rabbits.
What to see and do in Villa Torlonia Park
Explore Casino Nobile
The white Casino Nobile is the largest building of Villa Torlonia park in Rome and the first you will see. After a corridor displaying some of the vestiges from the mausoleum of Claudia Semne, a woman who died in the 2nd century and was buried in the Appian Way, one of the first rooms you will find in your visit is an elegant bathroom decorated with paintings and ancient pillars.
The central space and one of the most visually appealing of the palace is the sumptuous ballroom. Finely decorated with modern and classic elements such as paintings, sculptures, large chandeliers, and a marble floor, the ballroom went through several changes but the final result always remained one of grandeur and luxury.
After visiting the ballroom, proceed with your tour and make sure you don’t miss the other rooms of the opulent palace that was Mussolini’s Roman residence during the Fascist regime. See beautiful spaces like Alexander and Bacchus’ Rooms, the most sumptuous of Casino Nobile, the two bedrooms of Mussolini and his wife, and the Egyptian Room decorated with hieroglyphic motifs and Cleopatra-themed paintings.
- Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9 am-7 pm. Closed on Monday.
- Entrance fee: €7.50.
Visit Casina delle Civette
One of the quaintest buildings in Villa Torlonia park is Casina delle Civette, the Owls’ House or Lodge. This lovely cottage takes its name after the recurrent owl-themed decorations on the windows and stained glasses Casina delle Civette is famous for.
Formerly, this was the Capanna Svizzera, the Swiss Hut, mainly used as diversion and to take a break from the official residences. After heavy refurbishing, the Swiss hut became Casina delle Civette, the house of prince Giovanni Torlonia jr. until his death in 1938.
Inside is a beautiful succession of polychrome stained glasses, sculptures, mosaics, majolicas, and more. Apart from an exhibition of different masterpieces, Casina delle Civette shows the rooms of the former residence, including the guest bathroom finely decorated with colorful tiles and stained glass windows.
- Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9 am-7 pm. Closed on Monday.
- Entrance fee: 6€.
Duck into Serra Moresca
Inspired by the sophisticated Islamic art and sinuous motifs of Granada’s Alhambra as well as scenes of the Orlando Furioso epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto, the Serra Moresca, Moorish-style greenhouse, of Villa Torlonia park has been recently opened to the public, immediately receiving a warm welcome from the citizens.
As soon as you approach this small building, you will feel carried away to some exotic country. Colorful stained glass windows and doors perfectly combine with the rest of the structure in peperino volcanic tuff, iron, and cast iron. Fascinating lights interplays, a manmade grotto and lake, and a collection of exotic plants complete the Alhambra-inspired scenery that the Torlonia princes concocted to welcome their guests.
Apart from the Moorish Greenhouse, the complex includes also the Moorish Tower and a grotto. It was designed in 1839 by Italian architect Giuseppe Jappelli native of the northern Veneto region and called by Alessandro Torlonia who liked his previous works of English-style gardens.
The greenhouse consists of a large rectangular space adorned with flower motifs, carved pillars and large, colorful glass windows embellished with geometric patterns. Inside is a tall glass ceiling, false-curtained walls, and a wall-mounted fountain.
The Tower was connected to the greenhouse via a passageway that opened on the manmade grotto, lakes, and little waterfalls that created a suggestive environment. Unfortunately, not everything was preserved and we can only visit a part of it.
There is also an upper floor that wasn’t opened to the public yet but we hope it will be ready to be visited soon. As shown in old images, the last floor of the complex also features large glass windows and had in its middle a couch that when needed would be lifted up to leave the space for a set table being lifted up from the kitchen of the lower floor, leaving all guests in awe.
- Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10 am-7 pm (in winter until 4 pm). Closed on Mondays and in the months of July and August.
- Entrance fee: 4€
Tour Casino dei Principi
During the war, Casino dei Principi in Villa Torlonia park became the residence of the widow and family of Bruno Mussolini, the son of the Duce who died in a plane crash.
Originally, Casino dei Principi was a modest rural building that had been inside the Abati vineyard for at least a century. Although the first renovation of the building was carried out by Valadier, it was under Alessandro Torlonia that Casino dei Principi acquired its current look. Fully refurbished by Giovan Battista Caretti between 1835 and 1840, it was revamped with rich decorations inside and outside.
Small and elegant, the cottage was used by prince Alessandro Torlonia for lavish private parties and as a dependence of the main palace to which it was connected through an underground tunnel that still links the two buildings.
Outside, the house still shows original decorative features such as the two marble doors and the cast-iron vases embellishing the attic.
Many of the original mural paintings went lost, but other decorations such as the ones of the frieze by Giovan Battista Caretti and Filippo Bigioli survived the passing of time.
Relax at the Limonaia
Once the elegant venue for private parties and public ceremonies, as well as where Istituto L.U.C.E., the Italian film corporation and production company created under Fascism, installed a movie theater, today the Limonaia is a lovely restaurant and coffee shop.
You can sit, relax, and grab a coffee or a casual meal. Bright and spacious, here they serve revisited traditional Italian dishes focusing on slow food and local products.
Take your kids to Technotown (Villino Medievale)
Villino Medievale is another building of Villa Torlonia park. After the death of the owner Giovanni Torlonia in 1938, Vittorio, the son of the Duce, moved to the medieval cottage (Villino Medievale) and brought about some changes to make it more modern and comfortable.
Today, it’s the venue of Technotown, where kids from 12 years old can enjoy the workshops and activities where science and technology are used to boost personal creativity. The organizers wanted to make this a place where kids and teenagers exchange ideas and solutions.
With the entrance ticket, kids can see the themed exhibition, while to take part in the different activities such as the bookshop, the daily creative factory, or the creative workshops, they need to make a reservation because participation is subject to availability. To book and have updated information on the activities, check their official website (in Italian).
- Address: Entrance from Via Lazzaro Spallanzani 1/A.
- Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9.30 am-7 pm. Closed on Monday.
- Entrance fee: 1€.
See the obelisks
In line with the plan of the Torlonia family to fit in the Roman grandeur, in the 19th century, two Egyptian-style obelisks were installed in Villa Torlonia park. They were built in northern Italy and brought to Rome by ship.
They are much smaller than the real Egyptian obelisks you can see in other parts of Rome such as Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Navona, and St. Peter’s Square.
Visit Mussolini’s air-raid shelter
The start of WWII made the building of an air-raid shelter for the Duce and his family a necessity. A first shelter was arranged under the lake of Villa Torlonia. Even though equipped with steel doors, an antigas filter, electricity, a toilet, a telephone, a first-aid kit, and mattresses, due to its location too far from their palace, it was soon deemed not safe enough.
This is how they found a new solution initially by reinforcing the basement of Casino Nobile itself and then by building a whole new, state-of-the-art bunker 6.50 meters under the palace external to the foundations but easily accessible from it.
Cylindrical in shape to better resist the compression of the bombing, the new shelter was protected by a 4-meter-thick wall of reinforced concrete. Consisting of several rooms, it featured two security exits, both external to the Casino Nobile palace.
This latest bunker was never completed because Mussolini had to flee Villa Torlonia and was arrested on July 25th, 1943, after the Badoglio government was put in charge. This bunker was used by the residents of Villa Torlonia and those of the nearby neighborhoods during the German occupation.
Mussolini’s bunker of Villa Torlonia has been recently restored and made accessible to visitors. During the renovation works, a 1st-century grave was found that can also be visited.
- Entrance fee for the bunker: €10.
- The tour lasts 1 hour.
- If you request a language different than Italian, this must be requested when booking the tour. Available languages are: English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, and Hebrew. The language must be requested at the time of booking.
Unfortunately, at the moment Villa Torlonia’s bunker is temporarily closed. We will update the article when they open to visits again.
Do yoga or go jogging
Villa Torlonia is not a huge park but strolling around it you will see plenty of people relaxing on its benches, spreading a mat to enjoy some yoga practice on the grass, jogging, and walking their dogs.
Probably due to its position along a very busy street, the Roman park of Villa Torlonia really feels like an intimate oasis of peace and tranquility off the hectic city traffic.
Soak in nature
Villa Torlonia is roughly 13 hectares (32 acres) big and populated with several species of select plants and trees such as Lebanese cedar, African cedars, chestnut trees, camellias, magnolias, and different types of palm trees.
Walking around Villa Torlonia means also soaking in nature and seeing majestic trees and flowers. You can relax, sit on one of the benches, or even enjoy a picnic.
What to see around Villa Torlonia
Villa Torlonia park is located along Via Nomentana in the Nomentano quarter. Even though outside the Aurelian walls and not very close to the immediate Centro Storico, there are many interesting landmarks to visit in this area.
- Sant’Agnese Fuori Le Mura Complex. This fascinating religious complex is one of my favorite hidden gems in Rome. The place where the 13-year-old Roman martyr Agnese was buried in the 4th century, here you can visit several early-Christian places such as the local catacombs, the ruins of the ancient Constantinian Basilica, and the stunning 4th century Mausoleum of Costanza, the daughter of Constantine the Great, strongly devoted to Sant’Agnese.
- Quartiere Coppedè. This quirky Liberty-style neighborhood designed by architect Gino Coppedè was built between 1915 and 1927. Mixing several styles, the local buildings are adorned with mythological figures, animals, monsters, and fairies coming from the Greek and Roman traditions. This quarter is nowhere near the other areas you will visit in Rome. Bizarre and grotesque, you will feel like stepping in another dimension that unfolds all around the beautiful Fontana delle Rane (Frogs’ Fountain).
- Villa Albani Torlonia. This magnificent villa in Via Salaria was built in the 18th century and is a stunning example of ancient style architecture with large gardens. Admittedly, visiting it it’s not that easy because it requires contacting the Torlonia Foundation and filling a form, but if you manage to squeeze it in your sightseeing list, you will certainly add tremendous value to your knowledge of modern Roman history and culture. Check their official site to book a visit.
- Villa Ada. Together with Villa Borghese and Villa Pamphilj, Villa Ada is one of Rome’s largest parks. Former residence of the Savoy Italian royal family, it’s a fantastic green oasis for a walk, to have a picnic, and to see its historical buildings.
- Porta Pia. Even though famous for being connected to the capture of Rome in 1870 following the Risorgimento battles, Porta Pia gate was built in the 16th century and among its creators is Michelangelo Buonarroti, nonetheless.
- MACRO. This museum of contemporary art located inside the former establishment of the Peroni beer factory revamped by French architect Odile Decq.
Where to eat near Villa Torlonia
Food-wise, the Nomentano/Trieste neighborhood is very exciting and hardly disappoints. This is a residential area with several offices, so restaurants are frequented mainly by locals. Hence, not tourist menus or quality.
Not far from Villa Torlonia, you can find all types of eateries, from one of our favorite pizza places to delicious and affordable seafood restaurants, plant-based buffets, and great street food. For a great meal, I suggest you take Via Nomentana toward Piazza Fiume and you will soon have a wealthy array of options.
Here are some of my favorite restaurants near Villa Torlonia:
- Berberé. Here you will be served one of the best pizzas in Rome. A mix of high-quality semi-wholegrain flours are used to make the sourdough left to rise for 24 hours. For the toppings, seasonal and organic ingredients are used.
- Smor. Self-proclaimed “Viking-style” street food, at Smor you can try typical Scandi foods that include smoked and marinated fish.
- Osteria Maré. This is one of the best affordable seafood restaurants in Rome. The philosophy of the founder is precisely to make good quality seafood available to all budgets. They offer a menu à la carte and a 1, 2 or 3-course fixed business menu aimed at local office workers.
- Ops! One of the best and most diverse vegan restaurants in Rome, Ops! offers a wide buffet of plant-based dishes including starters, first and main courses, side dishes, and also desserts.
- Come il Latte. If you are in Rome in summer and need a fresh bite, what’s better than gelato? Luckily for you, in this area, right after Porta Pia, is Come Il Latte serving really one of the best gelato in Rome.
Plan your visit: practical information
- Address: Via Nomentana 70.
- How to reach Villa Torlonia: By metro (Sant’Agnese Annibaliano or Bologna stops, B line), by bus (62, 66, 82), by tram (2, 3, 19).
- How to buy the ticket: Each building has its own ticket, but if you want to visit more than one landmark, you can purchase a discounted collective ticket. These are the options: Casina delle Civette + Casino Nobile + Serra Moresca: €11.50; Casina delle Civette + Casino Nobile: €9.50. The ticket offices of Villa Torlonia are in the Casino Nobile or the Serra Moresca (that opens at 10 am instead of 9 am), Casina delle Civette doesn’t have a ticket office. In the high season, it’s a good idea to book your ticket online from the official website or over the phone by calling the number 060608. The pre-sale charge is 1€.
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