The Villa Sciarra is a huge villa situated on the slopes of the Janiculum hill in the Trastevere district in Rome. The buildings of the former villa are now used by the Institute for German Studies, whereas its grounds have been turned into a public park. Apart from several fountains and statues, the park contains the ruins of an ancient Syrian shrine.
Villa Sciarra Rome
Addres, opening hours and admission
Address: Piazzale Wurts – Rome. There is a second entrance in the Largo Minutelli. Opening hours: Sunrise till sunset. Admission: Free.
It is in what is now the Villa Sciarra that Gaio Gracco was murdered by his slave Filocrate in 121 BC. It is also here that Cleopatra, during her visit to Rome, enjoyed Julius Caesar‘s hospitality in his gardens, the Horti Caesari. After Caesar‘s death, the emperor willed the gardens to the people of Rome.
The history of the Villa Sciarra itself begins in the 15th century. The first building was constructed in a vineyard belonging to the Chiesa di Santa Maria ad Martyres (better known as the Pantheon).
From 1575 until 1653, when Antonio Barberini acquired it, the villa changed ownership several times. Barberini had both the building itself and the surrounding gardens restored. By then the villa’s value and prestige had increased a lot, since it now belonged to the inner city, thanks to the construction of the Mura Gianicolense.
After the Barberini the Ottoboni took over ownership, but later Cornelia Costanza Barberini returned it to her family. She was married to Giulio Cesare Colonna di Sciarra, so it is at this point that the villa got its present name. By the early 19th century the villa occupied almost the entire Janiculum Hill, plus what is now the Monteverde district.
The villa was severely damaged during the battle between Garibaldi and the French troops.
After this war Prince Maffeo II Sciarra made some bad investments and lost most of the villa, escept for the top part of the Gianicolo. Subsequently several people owned it before it was finally acquired by George Wurts and Henriette Tower.
They had exotic plants and trees and lots of statues put in the gardens. They also held peacocks, which briefly led to the nickname “White Peacock Villa”.
After her husband’s death, Henriette Tower donated the park to the city. The only condition was that they were to turn it into a public park. The building itself became the seat of the Istituto Italiano di Studi Germanici.
In 1906 by accident a 1st century shrine for the Syrian Gods was found in the park. This shrine had later been reconstructed by the Syrian tradesman Marcus Antonius Gaionas.
The present version of the monument was built even later, after the original had been destroyed in a fire.
The shrine held a.o. a partially gilded Bacchus statue.
There was also an altar with a hollow part containing some eggs and a bronze sculpture of a man being strangled by a snake.
To the left of the entrance, there is a building containing sculptures of the three most important Syrian Gods, Hadad, Atargatis and Simios.
Although reconstructed, the original floor plan of the building is intact. It has a terrace with a small tower and sculptures personifying the continents and the parts of the day.
The big square in front of the institute is decorated with two fountains. The Fountain of Human Passions (or the Fountain of the Vices) is the one with the sphinxes. The first one (personifying anger) has its feet on a skull, the second one (luxury) lies on a carpet of flowers, the third one (avarice) has horn leaking coins and the last one (gluttony) a horn full of fruit. The Fountain of the Cherubs is also known as Fontana del Biscione, the biscione being a snake eating a man. Two of the cherubs are holding a shield with a picture of a snake. The biscione was the coat-of-arms of the Visconti family.
There is also an exedra with 12 niches with sculptures personifying the months of the year.
The Villa is bordered by the Mura Gianicolense, the Via Calandrelli and the Via Dandolo. The fountain near the main entrance on the Piazzal Wurts is the Fontana dei Faunetti. This “Fountain of the Little Fauns” depicts two fauns and a goat playing. The bigger Fontana dei Fauni stands near the Largo Minutelli entrance. The fauns in this fountain have no time for frolicking, since they are carrying a large shell on their backs.