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Villa e Casino Panfili, detta del Bel Respiro (Book 10) (Day 6)

In this page:
 The plate by Giuseppe Vasi
 Today's view
 Casino dell'Algardi
 Fountains in front of the Casino
 In the Gardens
 On the Farm
 Arch of Acqua Paola

The Plate (No. 200)

Villa e Casino Panfili detto del Bel Respiro

With this plate Vasi comes to the end of his work and he chooses for this the largest Villa of Rome, Villa Panfili or Villa del Bel Respiro, because of the fresh air one could breathe (respiro=breath) there owing to the western winds and the pine trees. The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Lower floor of the Villa; 2) Steps leading to the hidden garden; 3) Steps leading to the upper floor of the Villa; 4) Pinetum (plantation of pines). The small map does not show 4) Pinetum, but it shows 5) Arch of Acqua Paola.

Small ViewSmall View


The view today

The view from the east is limited because of the trees, so to see the secret garden in front of the Casino, one has to move to the western side.
Read William Dean Howells' account of his visit to Villa Doria Panfili in 1908.

The secret garden

Casino dell' Algardi

Casino dell'Algardi

The Casino was built in 1644-52 by Alessandro Algardi at the expense of Prince Camillo Panfili, nephew of Pope Innocentius X (coat of arms on the fašade). The Prince had at first requested Francesco Borromini to design it, but the excessively innovative ideas of Borromini did not satisfy him, so he commissioned the Casino to Alessandro Algardi, who had a great reputation as a sculptor, but a limited experience as an architect. After long discussions with the Prince, Algardi designed a traditional palace with a very rich decoration, very similar to that of Villa Borghese. In Algardi's plans, the Casino had two wings embracing the garden. The Casino is called after Algardi to distinguish it from Villa Vecchia (the old villa), an existing building which was largely modified in the XVIIIth century (in my background a Panfili dove from the ceiling of Villa Vecchia).

The coat of arms

Villa Panfili (or Doria - Panfili as it became known after the death in 1740 of Donna Anna, the last Panfili who had married Giovanni Andrea Doria) was acquired by the Italian Government in the 1950s. The park is open to the public, while the Casino is used by the Prime Minister for official meetings. The building was recently repainted in the "sky" color which was very common in the XVIIIth century. One of the reasons for the high number of sculptures and reliefs is due to the fact that several Roman tombs had been found in the area of the Villa which is immediately outside Porta S. Pancrazio, the starting point of Via Aurelia. In addition Algardi had many assistants and was in a position to provide the statues and reliefs necessary to complete the decoration.

The secret garden

The secret garden is embellished in a very classical way. Algardi was the leader of the "classical" school which regarded Borromini and to some extent Bernini as unorthodox and bizarre artists.


In the terrace below the secret garden Algardi designed several fountains which are very representative of the culture of the time. Here below Fontana di Venere and Ninfeo dei Tritoni, two fountains based on grottoes adorned with shells, a theme deriving from the discovery of the use of caves by the Roman Emperors in their Villas.

Fontana di Venere and Ninfeo dei Tritoni

The Casino was used only in summer when the weather made staying outside pleasant. To this purpose Algardi designed a large open air theatre decorated with reliefs and busts. The decoration includes a syrinx (a Pan-pipe) which shows how the shepherds' life was regarded as an idyllic world.

Fountain of the theatre

At the center of the terrace Algardi designed a large fountain based on the fleur-de-lys, one of the heraldic symbol of the Panfili family.

In the garden (2)

In the Gardens

The large park around the Casino was in part redesigned in the XVIIIth and XIXth centuries, but the many Roman memories (not all original ones) were left untouched.

Roman memories

The park was split in several parts closed by railings and gates. The Panfili had so many palaces that they had a permanent position for an architect. The fine gates below were designed by Gabriele Valvassori in 1732.

Baroque gates

Also in the park one comes across several interesting fountains. Here below Fontana della Lumaca by Bernini with the recurring motif of the shell and the dolphins.

Fontana della Lumaca

Gabriele Valvassori designed an artificial waterfall originating from Fontana del Giglio, a fountain sculpted by Algardi for the terrace in front of the Casino. The water ends in a little pond.

Fontana del Giglio

On the Farm

The western part of the Villa was used as a farm and instead of fountains, one finds watering-places for animals. This part had an independent entrance with a fine coat of arms of Innocentius X.

On the farm

Arch of Acqua Paola

Arch of the Acqua Paola

The northern wall of the park is in part made by the arches of an old Roman aqueduct which Paulus V rebuilt to bring water to the hills on the right bank (Acqua Paola). At the point where the aqueduct crosses Via Aurelia Antica a large arch was built, which looks like another of the gates of Rome.

Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:

Villa Panfili del bel respiro
E' questa una delle pi¨ pregevoli, e magnifiche ville di Roma, non solamente per la sua grande estensione di sei miglia di circuito con lunghissimi viali coperti e scoperti, giardini segreti ornati di statue e bassirilievi antichi, boschetti e parchi per le caccie, peschiere e fontane deliziose; con il gran teatro ornato di marmi e sculture antiche molto considerabili, e giuochi di acqua tanto diversi; e per la stanza pastorale colla statua di Fauno, che colla zampogna in bocca mostra di suonare; ed affinchŔ la favola venisse avvivata dal vero, evvi dietro la medesima statua un organo, che col moto dell'acqua fa diverse suonate, replicate poi dall'eco, pure fatto artificiosamente: onde estatici corrono gli spettatori alla melodia del suono: ma se non saranno accorti nell'uscire verranno tutti bagnati. Ma ancora e riguardevole questa villa per il nobile casino ornato tanto di fuori, che di dentro di statue, busti, e bassirilievi antichi, e di sommo pregio, distribuiti con magnificenza, e decoro secondo il disegno dell'Algardi; oltre le varie altre curiositÓ, che a tutti sono fedelmente mostrate dal Custode.


With these words (have a happy life) to his readers (and to you) Vasi closes his tenth and last book.

Next step in Day 6 itinerary: Monastero di S. Maria dei Sette Dolori

Go to    or to  Book 10 or to the  or to my Home Page on Baroque Rome or to my Home Page on Rome in the footsteps of an XVIIIth century traveller.

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