No matter how many times you visit Rome, there is always something new to see or experience. Such was the case with our recent visit. The Palazzo Doria Pamphilj was a place l had entertained visiting since l read about it a couple of years ago. I was aware of the Doria Pamphili park and know it’s one of the nicest ones where the locals go to picnic and relax in. I decided we had to make it happen on this visit and l am so glad we did. It is simply stunning. Check out some of the incredible spaces in the palace.
Palazzo Doria Pamphili is a private mansion located right in the heart of Rome, on what l can only assume is priceless land. This place is monstrous and takes up a whole city block not far away from the popular piazza Navona so you can just imagine. Very few of these palaces remain in private hands. Most are government offices or embassies. This one however remains so, and believe it or not, the family members still reside there. The tour of the Palazzo Doria is a self guided one which was refreshing as that meant you could go at your own pace. Once you pay your entrance fee, you get your free audio guide and off you go, down a long corridor, then up the stairs. I was a little disappointed because it was unremarkable to say the least. Quite plain. I changed my mind as we came upon the first “room”, part of the royal apartments.
The Doria Pamphili family came to be as a result of intermarriage between the Aldobrandini and Pamphili, along with the Borghese and some other names that escape my mind. Just know they were super rich people marrying super rich people and one was made a Cardinal because he was a nephew of the Pope and that is where the word “Nepotism” comes from. The popes knew how to take care of their own.
There are four wings to the villa with a central courtyard. The first peek inside the decadence is the Velvet room with its rich mixture of reds and gold. Stunning and impressive would describe it nicely. Several marble statues adorn the room, including one that was just amazing because of the intricate work done on the ruffles on the neck. It’s insane to think that such a hard substance as marble can be manipulated to look like a piece of cloth. I think we spent some time in front of that just ooohing and wanting to touch it (please don’t :-) ).
The apartments were lovely, the next one more impressive than the previous. The ballroom was my favorite in the wing. You could imagine wonderful parties taking place there. On one side were two maid statues wearing the colors of the Doria Pamphili family. Between them was a one of a kind harp. In those days, the palace was a hangout for the most major artists (painters, sculptors etc) of the time. I remember he said Handel composed one of his major works here. There were several Bernini sculptures scattered around the rooms, including one of the Cardinal. Just like he did with Cardinal Borghese, the first statue was cracked and he whipped out a second one in a week. I keep wondering if the guy was actually a genius or he did 2 at the same time, with one cracked on purpose just so he could “make another in a week” to show off. It’s too coincidental to me. Either way, the talent is obviously there as both statues look identical, save for the cracks. The painting in the same room by Diego Velasquez is considered to be his best work and supposedly doesn’t attempt to hide his “ugliness”. I take it he wasn’t a very nice person. On seeing it, the pope said “It is me”. What do you think? He does look like of mean there.
There was a whole hallway just for artwork. Some were numbered and you could punch in the number and listen to the history of the painting. A lot were not. You could easily spend 2-3 hours in that room alone if you were so inclined. These were all very important artists too, such as Bassano, Raffaello and Bernini and his number one student whose name escapes me.
My absolutely favorite room in the whole palace was the Gallery of Mirrors. It is simply breath-taking. Modeled after the namesake room in Versailles, but prettier in my opinion (missing the gaudy pink that l hated). It is just simply grand. The mirrors were imported from France and when the light comes through the windows from the outside, you really appreciate it. The statues in the enclosure are so fantastic. I could have stayed there longer for sure.
There is a chapel located in the palazzo, complete with someone in the crypt. It makes for a beautiful resting place. The crypt was roped off and so it was hard to get a good picture. It is of a certain Saint Theodora who was saved from flames via divine intervention when the flames parted. There is another saint buried there called the Centurion but l forget the story of that one :-).
My favorite bust statue in the whole palace is one of a certain woman by the name of Olympia Maidalchini below. She was a rich widow (first husband was a nobleman from the Borghese family) and married Pamhilio Pamphili. Rumors were she was involved with not just her husband, but with her brother-in-law Giovan Battista and it was she who encouraged him to push ahead in his career until he became Pope Innocent X who reigned from 1644-1655. I got a kick out of knowing she was pulling strings from the back. The Church used to collect taxes from everyone then, and it was her who convinced Pope Innocent that it did not look right for the church to collect from the whore houses, so the family did, adding untold amounts to the family riches.
One of the last rooms we saw was the Aldobrandini room, a place that looked like a massive garage for some reason. Years ago, there had been a massive blizzard that crushed the roof of the room. The walls were then concreted and remain so. It’s unpainted and quite contrary to the rest of the palace. This room is filled with insane pieces of artwork and garden statues moved from their other palaces. There are two! Michelangelo Merisi aka “Caravaggio” paintings on the wall. Two!!!! One is “Magdalene” and the other, Rest on the Flight into Egypt”. The audio mentioned that once again, he used the same “lady” to portray both Magdalene and the Virgin Mary. You can imagine that each one could easily sell for millions. The Cardinal acquired them when the artist was on a downward spiral so you can say he had a good eye.
This room was telling to me in a way. It became obvious to me that the family is cash poor. You see, despite all the wealth displayed, there is a stipulation in the original will of the Cardinal/Pope that none of the artwork must ever be sold. They all had to remain in the family. I don’t think back in the 16th century they ever envisioned life now. I think the upkeep of the palace is crushing, otherwise that room would have been fixed. Selling just one of the small pieces of lesser art would solve a lot of their problems l believe.
The Palazzo Doria Pamphili is worth a visit when in Rome. The artwork rivals what you see at the Vatican and other palaces. I’m not sure why it’s not as popular as the Borghese Palace for instance. It is just as excellent. There are no lines to speak of and you can enjoy it at your own pace, like the gentlemen below who fell asleep while checking out the art. There you go, one more thing to do in Rome in addition to a walking food tour and checking out the Mouth of the Truth among others.
The Palazzo Doria Pamphili is located at:
Via del Corso, 305, Rome
Hours: 9AM till 7PM (last entry at 6PM)
Cost: €12 and €8 for under 26
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What do you think of the palace? Would you like to visit it or are you more likely to visit the more touristy places?