Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Villa Doria-Pamphili: Evolution of an Emerald from Private to Public

Villa Doria-Pamphili - once a villa and now Rome’s largest public park - is located on the Gianicolo outside the Aurelian wall circuit. Significant record of the villa begins in 1630, when it was purchased by Panfilo Panfili and subsequently developed by architect Alessandro Algardi into a suburban retreat from the chaos of Rome. The villa still occupies that role, though today it does so for all Romans as opposed to private owners. Through time, war, and macro-cultural shifts, Villa Doria-Pamphili has been transformed from an exclusive, tightly-bound private property into an extensive paragon of public space in Rome.

The peculiar nature of the larger Roman organism offers insight into this process. Looking at Rome from a wider perspective, one observes immediately its expansiveness – indeed, it is the largest municipality in Europe. This is not to construe it as a massive concrete-jungle, however; immediately noteworthy as well is the significant presence of landscape integrated into its fabric. Agriculture contributes one third to the volume of Rome, and green spaces designated for recreation are also abundant throughout. With this larger context in mind, the situation of Villa Doria-Pamphili in Rome hardly seems out-of-place; to be sure, the villa’s openness is in stark contrast with the density of the nearby Trastevere area, but their immediate juxtaposition creates a condition of balance. The accumulation of such contrasts within Rome produces the very puzzle-pieces of its distinct character.

The aforementioned sharp contrast between the villa and its more urban surroundings has existed since its inception; indeed, that contrast was its very purpose. One will observe, however, that since then much has evolved physically within the villa itself. Time, ownership changes, and war have amalgamated to the effect of gradually adding pieces, contributing to the scope of today’s park while simultaneously reflecting contemporary popular thinking about public versus private spaces.

At the core of Villa Doria-Pamphili remains its original iteration, known as the Villa Vecchia. This portion of the villa has remained almost entirely intact, and is characterized by the extent to which it harkens to the past, drawing precedent from antiquity. The most notable of these is a short length of formal canal reminiscent of the Canopus at Hadrian’s Villa, a far more moderate display while still paying homage to past masterpieces the Pamphili admired.

The most abrupt and drastic modification to the physical composition of the villa came in the aftermath of war in 1859-1860. In attempting to defend Rome from French troops, Garibaldi fortified Villa Doria-Pamphili among others, utilizing its elevation to his strategic advantage, albeit unsuccessfully. In the course of the fighting, neighboring Villa Corsini was all but obliterated, prompting Prince Doria Pamphili to purchase it, an acquisition that nearly doubled the already-large Villa Doria-Pamphili. At the same time, a memorial arch was built to commemorate those who lost their lives in the fighting near Porta San Pancrazio, called the Arch of the Four Winds. This has since served as a both a beacon of the area’s historic importance and a prominent symbolic entrance into the site.

Arch of the Four Winds

War-related modifications strongly affected not only the makeup of the villa, but its sociocultural role and popular attitudes toward it. Garibaldi’s decision to fortify the site for the public defense signaled, whether intentionally or otherwise, the notion that the space was not only ideally and securely located, but that it was an effective public gathering point. In essence, Garibaldi’s move drew attention to Villa Doria-Pamphili, casting it into the public eye. Furthermore, the construction of a public monument on site, the Arch of the Four Winds, in 1850 demonstrated an unprecedented openness, reflecting a clear shift in thinking regarding this vast space previously shrouded in a veil of obscurity.

In 1929 it was suggested that Villa Doria-Pamphili be included in the Lateran Treaty, one that would annex it to the Vatican. This was given special consideration due to the Pamphili family ties with the papacy, as Giovanni Battista Pamphili had been elected Pope in 1644 as Innocent X and had himself elected many relatives cardinals. Ultimately, this did not occur, though significantly the idea of the villa assuming a presumably more accessible form was suggested, injecting this idea into the dialogue regarding surfacing tensions concerning the space. To be sure, popular opinion recognized the villa as a potentially valuable public space, and in 1957, this idea was realized; the entire villa was purchased by the Italian State for use in state administrative functions. The city of Rome purchased it between 1965 and 1971, turning it into a gallery and effectively completing the transition that had been gathering momentum for some time. This now-complete role reversal, however gradual, resulted in rather rapid change and solidified the villa in a peculiar hinge role, having transitioned through uncharted gray area on the private-public continuum. It can be said that other contemporary public-sphere projects, such as the Lago Artificiale and the Palazzo dello Sport, may have had a momentum-generating influence to catalyze the finalization of this transition, as post-war Italy was inclined toward public projects.

In its present state, the villa retains the elements of the Villa Vecchia, with a terraced structure and a strong formality which dissolves into an asymmetrical organization. The interface between these two presents a wall with symmetrical ascending staircases, a foreboding relic symbolic of the past exclusivity of the villa. Inside these walls remain boxwood hedges in an English garden style, implemented after the Napoleonic Era when this style was particularly popular; these were formally arranged to mirror the formal symmetry of the Casino building which they flank.

English Gardens Flanking the Casino

The formality diffuses into open spaces with a noticeably lesser degree of organization, though the presence of a number of picturesque fountains and reasonably well-maintained fields suggest a certain quantity of purposeful upkeep. These areas are perhaps the strongest indicators of the public dimensionality of the site, openly arranged and the pinnacle of accessibility in the face of the restrictive gestures of walls and gates.

Casino, with walled facade

The present condition of Villa Doria-Pamphili would substantiate the notion that this transition to a public orientation was for the better. Surface-level observation is sufficient to determine that the villa is extensively used by the people it now caters to; on a sunny day, one would expect to find bikers, joggers, people walking dogs, or soccer players in the various spaces the park offers, and perhaps even the occasional tourist taking pictures. Today, the Casino and the Palazzino Corsini buildings on site serve as art galleries, making wealth once restricted to private eyes open to popular consumption.

Main Entrance to the Villa Today, in use

Sources Cited

“History”. Galleria Doria Pamphili. Cited 5/12/09
Gardens Guide Review. Villa Doria Pamphili.
Cited 5/12/09

De Vico, Rafaelle. “Lago Artificiale 1938-1960”. Cited from coursepack, p.32. Cited 5/12/09

Nervi, Pierluigi and Marcello Piacentini. “Palazzo dello Sport 1956-1960”. Cited from coursepack p.34. Cited 5/12/09

Penelope Hobhouse "Doria Pamphili, Villa" The Oxford Companion to Garden. Ed. Patrick Taylor. Oxford University Press 2006. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Cornell University. 13 May 2009

Piperno, Roberto. Villa e Casino Panfili, detta del Bel Respiro. Cited 5/12/09

All photographs taken by Matthew Sturz

1 comment:

  1. For hours I have been looking and reading other articles about Villa Doria-Pamphili: Evolution of an Emerald from Private to Public.
    By the way what a bunch of viagra online blogs are in the web!, just amazing.
    But back to topic, your post is by far the most interesting, accurate and informative.
    Thanks for sharing and have a nice day.