Built for aristocrats-come-lately, the Torlonia family—the Italian Rockefellers of the 19th century—this villa became Mussolini's residence as prime minister under Italy's king and is now a public park. Long neglected, the park's vegetation and buildings are gradually being refurbished. Newly restored is the Casina Nobile, the main palace designed by the great architect Giuseppe Valadier. A grand, Neoclassical edifice, it comes replete with a gigantic ballroom,
frescoed salons, and soaring templelike facade. While denuded of nearly all their furnishings and art treasures, some salons have important remnants of decor, including the reliefs once fashioned by the father of Italian Neoclassical sculpture, Antonio Canova. In the park, a complete contrast is offered by the Casina delle Civette (Little House of Owls), a hypercharming example of the Liberty (Art Nouveau) style of the early 1900s: the gabled, fairy-tale-like cottage-palace now displays majolica and stained-glass decorations, including windows with owl motifs, and is a stunning, overlooked find for lovers of 19th-century decorative arts. Temporary exhibits are held in the small and elegant Il Casino dei Principi (The House of Princes), designed in part by Valadier.
Villa Torlonia, Via Nomentana 70, Rome, 00161, Italy