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Page revised in June 2009.
Casino della Villa Altieri sul Monte Esquilino (Book 10) (Map A3) (Day 2) (View B8) (Rione Monti)
Villa Altieri was designed in ca. 1660 by Giovanni Antonio de' Rossi for the family of Pope Clement X. The Villa is located midway between S. Maria Maggiore and S. Croce in Gerusalemme. It had a front and a back garden and as Vasi points out from one garden you could see the other one through an empty space on the ground floor. The hidden garden had a famous maze and the two gardens were connected through unusual arches.
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) Acqua Claudia aqueduct; 2) Fountains and steps leading to the lower part of the gardens; 3) Hole in the Casino and fountain in the hidden garden. 1) is shown in another page. The small map shows also 4) Villa Giustiniani Massimo; 5) Villa Astalli.
The Casino (today a school) is all that is left of the whole villa. Areas within the walls became so valuable after 1870 that the owners of this and other villas could not resist the temptation of selling them. The Casino was modified by the addition of another storey and the closure of the loggia.
At one point the Casino was even used as a prison for women; it is understandable why the statues which embellished the staircase and the roof were removed.
Giovanni Antonio de' Rossi was a contemporary of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who introduced naturalistic elements (rocks) into the design of palaces (see Palazzo di Montecitorio).
The only remaining fountain shows the influence of Bernini's works. The Altieri decorated their villa with some ancient statues and inscriptions and with paintings found in 1674 near Isola Farnese in a Roman tomb (Sepolcro dei Nasoni). These paintings soon deteriorated but copies were drawn and described by Gian Pietro Bellori, curator of antiquities for the pope and better known as an art historian.
Villa Giustiniani - Massimo
In 1566 Sultan Suleyman conquered the island of Scio (today Chios) which was a possession of the Genoese Giustiniani family. Giuseppe, a member of this family, moved to Rome and became a prominent figure of Roman society thanks to the family's enormous wealth; his son Vincenzo bought the fiefdom of Bassano and in ca. 1600 built a villa near S. Giovanni in Laterano.
Andrea Giustiniani, heir of Vincenzo, married Maria Pamphilj, niece of Pope Innocent X and he embellished the fašade of the casino with ancient Roman reliefs and busts (the latter are in part modern).
In 1803 the villa was sold to the Massimo; in 1821-28 the German painters Schnorr, Koch, Veit, Overbeck and Fuhrich decorated its interior with frescoes showing scenes from Ariosto, Dante and Tasso. They were called Nazarene from their clothing and hairstyle; their paintings were a reaction to Neoclassicism.
The gardens of Villa Giustiniani Massimo are lost: their main gate was moved to Villa Mattei.
Villa Astalli is a small casino built in the second half of the XVIIth century; at that time it was almost a farmhouse, although it was decorated with stucco busts and friezes. Today it is located near one of the busiest crossroads of Rome. A floor has been added to the original building. The Astalli were a prominent Roman family in the Middle Ages, but they lost power and wealth until Pope Innocent X chose Cardinal Camillo Astalli as one of his closest advisors. He was a relative of Donna Olimpia Maidalchini, sister-in-law of the pope.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page: