Rome Beyond the Borghese Palace

Although the palace of the Borgia family is the most famous in Rome, Palazzo Colonna is one of the oldest and largest and Palazzo Doria Pamphihj has a collection kept together by Pope Innocent X.

The Borghese Palace in Rome is so famous that two other attractions might be missed. But there are extravagant homes to see besides the former palace of the Borgia family.

The Palazzo Colonna

For those who have been watching The Borgias on Showtime, you are familiar with the Colonnas, one of the five major families of medieval Italy.

For me, seeing their home in Rome was more unexpected and exciting than touring the Villa Borghese, which has received much more publicity. The Palazzo Colonna is one of the oldest and largest private residences in the city. The Colonna family has lived in Palazzo Colonna generation after generation since the 13th century.

Enter into a grand hall. I was completely overwhelmed by the magnificent height of the ceiling and the vast space to say nothing of the priceless art work. Though hardly of the same magnitude, the cannon ball in the steps leading to the lower gallery was titillating as well. There was another near a window to the left of the

staircase looking toward the entrance. These were courtesy of the French army sent to assist Pope Pius IX in 1849 from

insurgents that occupied Rome for a few months.

The Colonna’s decided to keep the cannonballs in the palace as a reminder to visitors of the injury that men can do to one another and to art. It is thought that the projectiles came through the roof and lodged in the staircase and in the wall nearby.

When walking through the galleries not only is there artwork to either side, but also the ceiling is painted in lively engaging colors. One segment shows, not surprisingly, Marc Antonio Colonna’s victory over the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. He was the captain of the Christian fleet.

Marc Antonio Colonna’s victory over the Turks in 1571.

Between and in front of the paintings along the sides of the galleries are precious objects such as an ebony and ivory cabinet supported by the conquered Turks.

The ebony and ivory cabinet.

The next room is entitled the “Room of the Apotheosis of Martin V” because the ceiling painting portrays the Colonna pope entering into heaven (again no surprise with the subject matter). This room is filled with other important paintings, as well, among them the Bean Eater. This painting by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) is thought to have inspired artists like Van Gogh centuries later.

The Bean Eater by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609)

Following is the throne room with a chair reserved for visiting popes. It is turned toward the wall when not in use by a pope visiting the palace. The painting is a portrait of Oddone Colonna (there seems to be a theme here), the pope known as Pope Martin V. He was elected in 1417 and lived in the palace from 1420 to 1431. He is said to have revitalized Rome after the papal exile to Avignon, France.

Papal chair turned toward wall when pope is not present.

The palace was much smaller at that time. Over the next five centuries it was expanded to its present size.

Beyond is the embroidery room which consists of Indian-style tapestries from the 17th century. They are woven of gold and silk threads. It is also here that the arms of Colonna and Pamphilj are joined in a lovely tapestry commemorating the marriage between the two families in 1697.

Scattered among the many rooms are fine pieces of early Chinese export porcelain. This is especially true in the rooms at the end of the long corridor at the end and to the right of the entrance hall. Most are underglaze blue and white, but there are a few examples of colored ware, a term of the time.

Underglaze blue porcelain.

For an extra fee the Princess Isabelle Suite can be viewed on a tour. It was likewise worthwhile just as the rest of the Palazzo. Basically, there is so much to see that this still used residence could be revisited many times.

The opening hours of the Palazzo Colonna are limited to just every Saturday 9 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. There is a free guided tour in English at 11:45 a.m. There is also a video at the entrance about the house, though it is in Italian. The building is closed in August.

The Palazzo Doria Pamphihj

This palazzo, though not as grand as the Colonna, is equally filled with incredible treasures. In some ways, it is more approachable because there is an audio guide in English and the narrator is a member of the family with love in his heart for his ancestral home. The Colonna and the Pamphihj were connected in 1697 through a marriage. Photos are not allowed in the Palazzo Doria Pamphihj.

Several families contributed to the treasures that can be seen today. It was the pope in the family, Innocent X, however, who kept them together. He left them to his nephew, Camilo Pamphilj, with the provision that the collection should not be separated. This directive provided the sumptuous and invaluable treasures that we see today within the family home.

The courtyard entrance to the Palazzo Doria Pamphihj.

Opening hours are more generous than the Palazzo Colonna. They are daily 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. with the last admission at 6 PM. Be sure to get the audio guide.

Warning

Finding the entrance to most palazzos in Rome is more challenging than most people appreciate. This is because some of these structures take up a city block. This means there are opportunities for four entrances. In order to avoid confusion, make sure that you know the exact street on which the visitor entrance is located ahead of time. That way you won’t have to walk around an entire city block!