Villas of the Papal Nobility

Photo by Walter.

Villas of the Papal Nobility is part of the Tentative list of Italy in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

The Villas of the Papal Nobility is a series of 15 villas built from the second half of the 16th century onwards for the higher clergy and by members of the aristocracy connected to the papal court in Rome. The villas were built in two main areas in Lazio: in the northern area, around Viterbo, and in the south-eastern area, on the Colli Tuscolani. The vast parklands surrounding them were accorded great importance, with formal, "artificial" gardens integrated into the natural landscape.

Map of Villas of the Papal Nobility

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

Community Reviews

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Malta - 07-Apr-23 -

Villas of the Papal Nobility (T) by Clyde

In 2022 I visited 7 locations of this tWHS as well as other related sites which are not included among the 15 locations.

Being based in Grottaferrata and in Viterbo for a couple of days I first ticked off Villa Grazioli and Villa Muti in Grottaferrata proper and Palazzo Chigi in Ariccia. Grottaferrata itself is quite pleasant but the locations I chose to visit were either closed or not very promising both from outside as well as inside. Same applies to Ariccia. In Grottaferrata I particularly enjoyed visiting the "Greek Abbey" or the Exarchic Monastery of Saint Mary, which has nothing to do with this tWHS, and from there I picked up a couple of brochures on the rather nearby WHS beech forest locations of Monte Raschio and Monte Cimino. To make a long story short, I decided against visited the remaining 8 components in and around Frascati, in favour of covering the newly spotted 2 WHS locations, covering Cerveteri WHS and spending some time at Lago Albano and Castelgandolfo. Within the latter's boundaries lies the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo (strangely left out of this tWHS) which served as a summer residence and vacation retreat for the Pope and has extraterritorial status as one of the properties of the Holy See and parts of the palace are accessible as a museum.

Although I had skipped 8 locations around Frascati, I was sure I was going to make up for that with the remaining 4 locations near Bracciano and the Tuscia. Palazzo Giustiniano at Bassano Romano is a bit of an odd one out of the 4, but Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola, Villa Lante in Bagnaia and the Sacred Grove or Park of the Monsters in Bomarzo are true highlights and very enjoyable to visit.

Palazzo or Villa Farnese in Caprarola is remarkable both for its massive pentagonal Renaissance and Mannerist exterior as well as for its interior art decoration and its round interior courtyard. Three highlights for me here were the mindboggling Scala Reale, a true work of art, the lavish frescoes of the Sala del Mappamondo, displaying the whole known world as it was in 1574 with the celestial spheres and the constellations of the zodiac on the ceiling, and the incredible acoustics just next to this hall (before heading to the gardens stop in the middle of the room and clap and you'll experience a "magical" acoustic effect which is believed to have been used for by the palace's owner to eavesdrop guests). If you were to choose only one location to visit from inside and outside, I'd definitely recommend this one as it really deserves to be on the WH list IMHO.

Villa Lante in Bagnaia is also worth visiting especially for its Mannerist garden of surprise formed by two nearly identical casini or houses built by different owners. Villa Lante was commissioned by Cardinal Gianfrancesco Gambara (which is why there are several motifs of shimps everywhere (shrimp = gambero in Italian). The two casini differ most in their frescoes, with frescoes of landscapes in the Gambara one and frescoes in a more classical style in the Montalto one, with a lovely combination of fresco and plaster sculptures, almost as trompe-l'œil. As an aside, every morning on weekdays at the main square of Bagnaia, a mobile vendor sells what is nicknamed as "the best porchetta in Tuscia"; not to be missed!

Last but not least, I visited the Sacred Grove or Park of the Monsters in Bomarzo. The entrance ticket is quite steep especially since the state of preservation of the whole Mannerist monumental complex is far from optimal. I compared my visit here to the much more preserved Esoteric Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal and the tWHS of Edward James’ Surrealist Gardens in Las Pozas, Xilitla, Mexico, in a similar condition of preservation. Like in the latter's case, most if not all of the water fountains and effects are out of order and several of the allusive verses in Italian near most of the statues are now eroded.

The Park of the Monsters of Bomarzo was intended not to please, but to astonish, and like many Mannerist works of art, its symbolism is arcane. The best examples are a large sculpture of one of Hannibal's war elephants mangling a Roman legionary, a giant tortoise, and the two scary monster faces or masks of Proteo-Glauco (just a few steps away on the left from the main entrance) and the Ogre or Orcus with their mouths wide open. The many monstrous statues appear to be unconnected to any rational plan, and appear to have been strewn almost randomly about the area, sol per sfogare il Core ("just to set the heart free") as one inscription on an obelisk says. The reason for the layout and design of the garden is largely unknown. Perhaps they were meant as a foil to the perfect symmetry and layout of the great Renaissance gardens nearby at Villa Farnese and Villa Lante. I enjoyed the introductory short video near the entrance and found the free small map given together with the ticket very useful not to miss the 40 different main sculptures scattered around the sacred grove.

This tWHS has potential but overall I think it needs to trim away the 'minor' sites and adopt a "less is more" quality approach.


Czechia - 24-Dec-18 -

Villas of the Papal Nobility (T) by Matejicek

I have visited only two components of the series: Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola and Villa Lante in Bagnaia (PHOTO), both in Viterbo municipality, and my impression was very positive. Thus, I am planning to visit other Villas of the series in the future, especially the nearby Grove of Monsters in Bomarzo, and another cluster of Ville Pontificie in the Castelli Romani region (Frascati and Lago di Albano). 

However, I have not yet visited other (already WHS) ensambles of renaissance and baroque villas in Italy around Florence and Vicenza. Therefore, to get the complex opinion if it deserves the WHS status or not, I should fill this gap and travel a bit more in Veneto, Tuscany and Lazio countryside...

I like the Lazio region in general and Viterbo in particular, because it is full of exceptional historical monuments but it is not so touristy as its northern neighbours (Tuscany&Umbria). Both Villas that I visited are located in hilly lanscape of Viterbo region in Cimino Mountains (WHC beech forests!). I admired not only the lanscape, and architecture of the Villas, but especially the gardens around them, the garden of Villa Lante is just amazing. What is also very interesting and typical for Viterbo region is the water management with a lot of fountains and basins (though not even TWHS, the Fontana Grande in Viterbo is just wonderful!).

Palazzo Farnese: there is a contrast between small chaotic village of Caprarola and huge pentagon of the Palazzo, which was started as a fortress but finished as highly representative Palace with round courtyard inside, rich decoration of interiors and fine adjacent gardens.

Villa Lante: I walked there from Viterbo via the huge pilgrim church of S Maria della Quercia. The village of Bagnaia is very small and I wouls call it as very authentic. The Villa (entrance fee of few Euros) consists of two symetrical pavilons (PHOTO), the interiors of which is only partly opend to visitors. But true highlight is the garden with fontains, sculptures and amazing water management!

In my opinion, Ville Pontificie are worth-visiting and I could feel the OUV there.

Full Name
Villas of the Papal Nobility
Structure - Residence
2006 Revision

Includes former TWHS Villa Di Caprarola (Farnese) and Villa Lante in Bagnaia (1984)

2006 Revision

Includes former TWHS Papal Residence of Viterbo (1984-1996)

2006 Added to Tentative List

The site has 15 locations

Villas of the Papal Nobility: Palazzo Farnese, Caprarola (T)
Villas of the Papal Nobility: Villa Lante, Bagnaia (T)
Villas of the Papal Nobility: Monsters' Grove, Bomarzo (T)
Villas of the Papal Nobility: Palazzo Giustiniani, Bassano Romano (T)
Villas of the Papal Nobility: Villa Mondragone, Monteporzio Catone (T)
Villas of the Papal Nobility: Villa Taverna Parisi, Monteporzio Catone (T)
Villas of the Papal Nobility: Villa Falconieri, Frascati (T)
Villas of the Papal Nobility: Villa Tuscolana, Frascati (T)
Villas of the Papal Nobility: Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati (T)
Villas of the Papal Nobility: Villa Lancellotti, Frascati (T)
Villas of the Papal Nobility: Villa Sora, Frascati (T)
Villas of the Papal Nobility: Villa Torlonia, Frascati (T)
Villas of the Papal Nobility: Villa Grazioli, Grottaferrata (T)
Villas of the Papal Nobility: Villa Muti, Grottaferrata (T)
Villas of the Papal Nobility: Palazzo Chigi, Ariccia (T)
WHS 1997-2024