The Villa Farnesina in Trastevere, Rome

Trastevere is a lovely residential neighborhood of Rome just across the Tiber from the centrale storico (historic city center)… a taxi or bus ride away or a rather lengthy but enjoyable walk on a sunny spring or autumn day. 

It is a must see for an authentic side of the city with wonderful local restaurants and little shops and cafes and bars and a piazza which boasts one of the oldest and most beautiful (and Byzantine!) churches in the city. 

It is my favorite place in the Eternal city to people watch and to get out of the crowded tourist spots. The Almost Corner Bookshop is there and sells books in English, too, and Trastevere has an ancient portico and a sumptuous small villa museum built in the sixteenth century, the Villa Farnese, owned by a Sienese banker named Agostino Chigi, who commissioned the architect Baldassarre Peruzzi to build him a splendid little palazzo. 

The interior of the Villa Farnese is decorated with frescoes by Raphäel Sanzio, Sebastiano del Piombo, Giovanni da Udine, Giovanni Bazzi (known as il Sodoma), Giulio Romano, Giovanni Francesco Penni, and Baldassarre Peruzzi himself… among their studio artisans and apprentices, as well. 

At the end of the sixteenth century this Villa was purchased by the famous Cardinal Alessandro Farnese from whom it takes its name “Farnesina” to distinguish it from the Palazzo Farnese on the other side of the Tiber (which I will be writing about in detail soon). 

The Villa was also used by the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, and is used for other important Roman events and groups today.

It is a “boutique museum” so its intimate setting is a perfect place to wander around and soak up the atmosphere of what it was like to live in a Renaissance villa, and to imagine the Farneses wandering the halls or Raphäel painting the walls… 


The garden is small and lovely to view, with architectural details and lush trees and other hidden gardens among the grounds you can peek at through gates. It’s one of Roma’s many green spaces and respites from the crowds.

From the official website:

OPENING HOURS

Villa Farnesina is open from Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 2 pm, closed on Sunday and holiday.

Visitors who present their admission ticket to the Vatican Museums (within 7 days from the date of visit to the Vatican Museum) will be entitled to a reduced entrance fee to the Villa Farnesina
GUIDED TOURS

On Saturday at 10 am (english), at 12.30 (italian)

Audio guides are available to visitors (italian, english and french)

SPECIAL OPENINGS

The Villa will be open the second sunday of each month. Info: +39 06 68027268; farnesina@lincei.it

The website is villafarnesina.it

All photographs are by me, Rebecca Butler, shot on analog film in spring 2008, for alovelettertorome.com
I have some interesting stories I picked up about the Villa Farnesina I will post next time. This will be included in my FARNESE family chapter in my book. There is a fascinating Borgia and Medici connection to the Farnese and I’ve spent a lot of time in their amazing Roman and Neapolitan villas (now museums). Alessandro Farnese eventually became pope. 

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the renaissance Boboli Gardens of Florence Italy  

The Palazzo Pitti is a large villa museum built in 1458 for a Florentine banker near the river Arno, in the heart of Florence, Tuscany, Italy, and is sumptuously laid out with antique furnishings and priceless works of Italian paintings and sculptures. It contains nearly 500 Renaissance  and baroque frescoes and masterpieces by Artemisia Gentileschi, Raphael, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Fillipo Lippi, Perugino, Correggio, Peter Paul Rubens, Andrea del Sarto, Fra Bartolomeo, il Rosso, Canova, Verrochio, and Pietro da Cortona, among many many others. I am writing a piece about these incredible collections, accompanied by photographs, and the background of some of the most important and beautiful works to see if you can visit. It’s highly recommended for serious art or palazzo fans.Surveying the grand grounds and estate from a distance as visitors have admired the beauty and harmony of the Boboli Gardens for centuries. The house and land were bought by the de’Medici’s in 1549 and they filled it with their incomparable art collection, second only to their nearby famed Uffizi Gallery and residence. Napoléon even used this as his main living headquarters in Italy in the late 18th century. The exterior courtyard where horses and carriages would draw up. Paris and Helen of Troy.Themes of alchemy and the occult mingled with myths of classical antiquity in the natural caverns decorated to enhance an atmosphere of enchantment.Far away seashells and coral encrusted on water formed stalactites. Sea nymphs and faeries and aristocratic crests.The prisoners in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.The fascinatingly carved and decorators part natural, part artificial cavern the Buontalenti Grotto in the Boboli Gardens is a fascinating place, is encrusted with seashells and stalactites, housing mythical, fantastic, and allegorical elements, as well as symbols referring to esoteric subjects. The Grotta di Buontalenti (also known as Grotta Grande or the Big Grotto) was built by Bernardo Buontalenti between 1583 and 1593, and commissioned by Francesco I de’ Medici.

Winding labyrinthine hedge walkways to get lost in or sneak into for a stolen kiss.A brilliant blue heron rests in an artificial lake. Naked trees promise a boast of riches at the first bloom.Wild iris and flowers of delicate violet and pale lavender dotted among tall wild grasses of rolling meadows.Oranges a reminder of the beautiful year round climate of most of Italy.I was there on an overcast early spring day before the beauty of the garden really bloomed but shall return their in autumn to take photographs of the richer, fuller gardens. The little wildflower meadows and orange trees and statutes were lovely against the grey sky and ornate fountains (turned off in the cold) but I long to see this place teeming with color and fullness after the long hot summer, as autumn turns the leaves Amber and gold. I get that chance this early October.
Watch this highly interesting and gorgeous historical and visual tour of the Boboli Gardens by Brit and garden expert, Monty Don. Boboli Garden — Tour of Italy – Florence

Berlin; a Grecian ode in black and white 

I am exceedingly charmed by Berlin. I’m smitten with it, in fact. This German city is pristine and enormous, with beautiful stretches of wide open boulevards and bridges betwixt baroque, art nouveau, Romanesque and post modern architecture (with character).

They have turned part of the old Soviet regime of East Berlin, that former extension of the cold eastern bloc into a museum island of buildings housing rare antiquities and art from around the world… in an homage to ancient Grecian architecture — one could almost imagine what it felt like to walk between intact Greek temples and palaces, everything is just so well tended to, the whole part of the city marries the past and the present together seamlessly.

I stayed in the chic, sleek, uber modern Potsdamer Platz East Berlin neighborhood, just a short jaunt up from the stunning Brandenberg Gate. Another ode to Ancient Greece, you feel in Berlin as though you are in a city which truly both reveres and celebrates learning and culture.

Because East Berlin was isolated for so long after World War II, it was the perfect spot to turn Bizmarck and Weimar Republic era buildings into museums and hotels, and the Soviet utilitarian era 20th century monstrosities into apartments and offices. The sleekest designs of exciting new architects are in areas like Potsdamer Platz, and it’s fascinating to walk through areas where you can still catch a sense of the ambience of the Stasí and yet where 21st century modernity has taken over.

Berliners take their coffee very seriously, and I fell in love with every cup of coffee or chai or tea or double espresso I had in East and West Berlin. I will be writing about my favorite cafes in Europe soon… And Berlin truly impressed me with their innovation and attention to detail and quality.

There’s so much to enjoy about Berlin, there is dark history to absorb yourself in, sumptuous art to view in gallery after gallery, classical antitiquites like the Ishtar Gate, Greco Roman ruins and objets, the Pergamon altar, and the brilliant Berlin Philharmoniker, restaurants and bookshops and even elegant BMW taxis to recline in the back of as you drive through the city listening to Beethoven.

Museum island 

Ishtar gate

Roman market gate from Ancient Greece/Turkey.

Rome in October


I caught a ridiculously photogenic couple in Rome taking a selfie together on the pincian hill at sunset, with cupolas and Saint Peter’s behind them. Oh, to be young and beautiful and in love in Roma, what many in this world wouldn’t give for it. If only, I think to myself…
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Persimmon trees bearing fruit with a view.

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A little ruin and a little Renaissance (and rococo).

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Dance of the tourists on the Villa Borghese’s Pincio overlooking the Piazza del Popolo.

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A kissing dove and pigeon. White doves always strike me as a symbol of Ancient Rome, much like olive trees.

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I like watching the beauty of Rome unfold before other people.

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Down the Pincio, on the way to the Spanish Steps, there are views everywhere of cupolas up close and far away.

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The endless flow of Roman water over stone and newly fallen leaves.

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There’s always a sense of play and humor in the Villa Borghese park, especially in the Pincian hill section.

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Walking along the Appian Way one is reminded why Rome will always be the eternal city, winter, spring, summer or autumn.

On Italy, on Love, a Keatsian letter never sent

I write to you from Italy. It’s where I belong, if I belong anywhere in this world. I should be writing this in Italian, that beautiful language… the language of Dante, and poetry, and of the maestros, but I’ve mastered one language only, English. Mastered it with the devotion of a life long lover who never grows bored. Such is my devotion to Italia itself. To the stories of Italy, to the soil, the sun, the gleaming stripped marble of ruins, the art, the hum of life for centuries still playing in stone.

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Love and Italy are entwined for me. But love for a place feels less dangerous than love for another soul. What is it about love more than any other sensation or state that makes it worth dying for for nearly everybody? Is it the intoxication? Is it that danger of falling; first in love, —the surrender of giving oneself so completely to another, and then, —the alluring danger of falling into disrepute and disintegration? 
  (‘before sunrise’ trilogy film still)

You’ll never have nowhere to go, I heard in a song once. That’s the other thing about love too, isn’t it? If you are my fail safe, I’ll be your home. We’ll never have nowhere to go, we’ll never be quite alone, never be utterly lost in the world with our pieces of love tethered to an anchor. Love gives you the buoyancy of floating, even at the end of a rope. The deeper the love, the deeper the water, the longer the line, the sweeter the kiss, the saltier the tears. The deeper the knife plunge. Something like that.

 (Shot by me, double exposed b&w film, protestant cemetery, Rome, Italy, 2008)

Loving is swimming that feels like floating, falling that feels like flying, until loving feels like drowning when there’s still a spark in the brain and air in the lungs, — quickly quickly at first, then slower, slower so there’s a flicker of hope, until the last tick tick tock of blue veins and dark arterial blood, and with the sounds of a few trite memories, voices of ghosts before you’ve forgotten, —then the spark is faltering again, then flickering out, the air is now escaping, —then, at once — nothing.

 (shot by me, portra film, capri protestant cemetery, isle of Capri, Italy, 2013)

Keats said, “Love is my religion; I could die for it.” Not for religion, not for country, not for god or even one’s soul, but for love itself, that fickle slow dying and quickening and petering out and rushing back and dissolving of self, that is worth dying for, each and every time. 

We hope for one great love in life, but perhaps there is a beauty in a few great loves, slipped into and out of like different characters? Multiple loves for multiple lives. 

 (analog photograph by the amazing Francesca Woodman)

That’s what we have, you and I, isn’t it? We fall in and out of love, in and out of each other? We hunt and repel, we submerge together, and reemerge on opposite sides, —we crash back into, then back away, sometimes we look away when speaking… 

Tell me when does love stagnate? When the newness of sex becomes too familiar or the nuances of our narratives loses their mystery? When we lose ourselves a little too much to capture the other, and no longer “get each other?” When the brains soften followed by the body?   

 (greco roman style neoclassical painting)

I fear I’ll never feel that with Italy, my love will never die for its myths and beauty. I’ll always return to its warmth, its reminder of death, and of the temporary. My love for you also feels endless, for it is already a ruin we revisit, happily, to hold onto the dust a little longer, to declare we were once here, to hope when we’re carrion our love will find itself in the hum pressed into stone too.

standing at the ruins on a quiet roman night

Rome is pieced together by fragments old and new; a broken clay pile of people who have lived and died, and are forgotten, rivaling the Monte Testaccio in size and obscurity.

Rome is the heaviness of time. It is the marks left on humanity. It is a walkable history book, forever unfolding its pages.

Rome is monuments of the big whigs leaving you breathless with their grand scale and an overwhelming rush of beauty.

‘Everyone is dead here’, the city whispers, in a voice softened against the bone-white marble of ruins.

The palatine lies silent under the stars. This is your one moment to catch your breath and savor Rome.

Try to stop time by breathing it in slowly. Hold it in, and take a sensory snapshot. Stand there, holding your breath, recording, feeling as immovable as a statue; a Henry James’ American willing a sacrifice to the pagan gods.

‘Just let me remember this. Let this enter me. The endlessness of it. The cobwebs. The broken stone. The bones. The dust. The pulse remaining somehow. Let me carry Rome where ever I go. Let it become a part of me. No, let me become a part of Rome. Another story never writ, another name unknown.’

     

   


Italy and England 

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There’s old Winston Churchill watching Big Ben, in Westminster, London, in March 2014.

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An anglophile’s dream: the omnipresent iconic red telephone box.

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Wandering around Portobello Road, in the Notting Hill neighborhood.

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The street art / grafitti is like The Sex Pistols and the Bbc all rolled into one.

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Tea at Sherlock Holmes and Watson’s house was quite amusing.

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Enjoyed searching for british china tea cups and white darjeeling on a half deserted faire.

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After wandering the many lovely garden parks of london wound up at  Buckingham’s Gate.tumblr_n2din7vCpZ1qznevxo4_1280

Making the pilgrimage to John Keats house at Hampstead Heath, London, after years of visiting the flat he died in, and laying flowers at his grave, in Rome.

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A room with a view…over the Thames, I was always excited to wake up to (and to raise my glass to) Big Ben.

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Saw the beautiful La Boheme set in 1940s Paris at the Royal Albert Hall.

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From the window of “221 b Baker Street, London

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From the beautiful garden of John Keats home, where he fell in love with Fanny Brawne and wrote some of his greatest poems.

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From the cloisters of Westminster Abbey. I do love a cloister.

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You have no idea how deep my anglophilia goes because I am always going on about Italy but these signs gave me a profound joy.

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This sign is so British it hurts.

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One of those moments in London an American or most foreigners savor.

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Always, a pilgrimage, a  beauty, a joy. John Keats forever. English Romanticism forever. B3-yzpZIAAIuVOk.jpg-large

Down the cloistered hall… like a dream of English classics, literary characters dancing in my head, London, a city looming in my brain of larger than life characters and eccentric, wonderful stories and frightful tales.

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The heartbreakingly beautiful dream of Italy view from my dreamy Sorrento hotel room terrazzo.

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Walking along the Appian Way on a quiet, car-free Sunday in Rome or along the Renaissance Via Guilia, I am forever excited and in awe over the small beauties and signs of the ancient world in this magical, mysterious city open-armed to the world.

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The architecture and cafes are familiar but I feel and live Rome anew each visit. There’s always something new to discover or a passion to stumble onto. Life is in the moment. It is heavy with the past, it is so alive it smacks of the future, but it is so wildly, lightly felt in the now, in the moment, Rome is like dreaming awake, feeling everything. Everything!

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Finding new off the beaten path cafes was a big favorite of mine in Italy this year. Always in search of the quiet moments and the hidden corners of Rome. This cafe was in Trastevere where you can sit and sip espresso and gaze at a Baroque Madonna painted onto a church exterior wall.

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I love the Eternal City because it has so many layers of history and love and unknown stories and marks of time and beauty in decay and new life bursting forth in a macabre, colored, brilliant celebration in Roman life today.

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Took a boat around my favorite island and swam in the Tyrrhenian sea on Capri, a place which invokes everything beautiful, lush and ancient about Southern Italy. There’s nothing quite like it.

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Returned to a lot of the same pleasures of the past, freshly squeezed oranges and lemons, under the Italian sun, by a Neapolitan woman who sings all day as she flitters around her Kiosk on the gorgeous Via Tragara.

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A return to Pompeii, the fascinating buried city with Vesuvius watchful in the distance.

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Meeting new friends abroad 🙂

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Long walks soaking in the sun and the past.

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Architectural details in half-obscured gardens of small villa art museums (full of amazing Renaissance, ancient and baroque Italian art)!

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Being the foreigner in a city you fall into like a comfortable affair.

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The moments you can’t anticipate but happen upon in the most beautiful of happenstances.

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My favorite spot on earth for the golden hour, on the Pincian Hill in Rome. This is before the view of the Popolo.

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A typical Roman street, wrapped into the mystery of fragments and pieces of history.

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The beauty of being overwhelmed in Rome.

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Cafe life in Italy, a class of wine or a coffee, a little treat, there is nothing like it. Another layered moment captured, to be savored and remembered palpably.

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On every wall there is a reminder of death and a reminder of love, the eternal kind, of love that lasts, and of life in the hand too.

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Rome, a city to return to, one that keeps its shutters open to the world, long enough for an unforgettable peek.

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Since that first moment I arrived there, now, and always, for Roma.

For traveling, for seeing the world, for meeting new people, and for being at home in the world.

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Here’s to 2014… and here is a cheers to 2015 and a new year of adventure and experience and chasing beauty!