Rome‘s Villa Celimontana, which is located on the western slope of the Celio hill and at only a short distance from the Colosseum, acquired its present name in the year 1925. The park was founded in the year 1580 by the Mattei family.
Villa Celimontana Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
Address: Via della Navicella, 12 – Rome. Opening hours: 07.00 till 19.00. Admission: Free.
(Please note that opening times may differ during the Covid-crisis.)
Already in ancient times the Celio hill was famous for its lush vegetation and abundant spring water. It used to be called Mons Querquetulanus (“Mount of Oaks”). Later it became a vineyard, which Duke Ciriaco Mattei in the 16th century transformed into a park.
The works lasted from 1581 till 1586. The architect was Giacomo del Duca, who in the past had worked with Michelangelo. In 1597 Giovanni and Domenico Fontana added a number of fountains, sculptures and other decorations.
In the 19th century the park was transformed into an English garden. There were three secret gardens and even an obelisk that in 1582 was taken from the Ara Coeli and donated to Ciriaco Mattei by the city. The obelisk originally came from Heliopolis. Ramses II had dedicated it to the sun god Ra.
Ciriaco‘s son Gian Battista changed the building into a private residence and bought more land in order to enlarge the gardens. He also had a labyrinth of hedges inserted.
Later the villa’s collections disappeared and the villa itself changed ownership. In 1813 the Spanish minister Manuel Godoy had the gardens transformed into a park.
In 1915 it was bought by the state and 10 years later it was aquired by the city and made into a public park.
The present entrance to the Villa is found on the Via Celimontana, near the Piazza della Navicella and the Chiesa di Santa Maria in Domnica. Its original entrance was on the northern side, at the Piazza SS. Giovanni e Paolo.
Entering the park through the main entrance you immediately see the main building. It is called Palazzetto Mattei and houses the Italian Geographic Society.
If you follow the Viale Cardinale Francesco Spellman from here, you will come to some archaeological ruins, followed by a neo-Gothic temple. The archaeological ruins date back to the times of Trajan and Flavius. A great part of what was found during excavations is on display in the Vatican Museums.
There is a Belvedere, which overlooks the Semenzaio di San Sisto. On your left you can see the obelisk of Ramses II. The obelisk, which was gifted to Ciriaco Mattei after having spent the first part of its Roman existence (until the middle of the 19th century) at the foot of the steps of the Ara Coeli, was brought to the Eternal City from Heliopolis and dedicated by Ramses II to the God of the Sun, Ra.
Villa Celimontana, which makes a far more natural impression than the more famous Villa Borghese, is full of fountains, statues, columns and other ornaments. Unfortunately many of the fountains Gian Lorenzo Bernini had made to embellish the villa have disappeared.
There is a small children’s playground in the Villa Celimontana and every summer the park hosts a jazz festival. You can rent ponies near the playground.
The Villa Celimontana is bordered by the San Gregorio al Celio Park.