Villa Spada —
A Historical Note
Gearóid Ó Broin
As the Mother House in the period 1888-1895 and the place where the
foundress, Mother Mary Ignatius OSF, died on
The story of the house is largely the story of two families, the Nobilis, who owned the property for about a hundred years and built the Casino, and the Spadas, who owned it for a further 200 years of its history. Although they came from noble families, who produced some scholars (Roberto Nobili S.J. and Virgilio Spada) and four Cardinals, none of the actual owners of the property left a deep mark on their times and none of them produced more than a footnote in the history books. Though not themselves great, they and their country house were often close to great people and great events. For ten days in 1849, Garibaldi and his red-shirts placed the Villa Spada at the centre of Italian history.
Today's Villa on the Janiculum hill occupies an area of 7,300 square
metres, but the original area was, at 30,366
square metres, more than four times as large. It stretched as far as Porta San Pancrazio-at 82 meters above sea level, the highest point in
The name Janiculum is presumed to derive from the cult
of Janus. Numa Pompilius, the second Roman king,
built a temple to Janus and was buried on the Janiculum. Ancus Martius (about 630 B.C.), the fourth Roman king, built a citadel against the Etruscans on the Janiculum, but in 508 B.C. the Etruscan Lars
Porsena seized the hill and laid siege to Rome before being forced to withdraw
by the legendary bravery of Horatius Cocles and
Mutius Sca:vola. Although in fact Porsena may
actually have conquered
From the 3rd century
B.C. to the 3rd century A.D., when
Close to the Villa Sciarra was the Lucus Furrinx, where the tribune Gaius Sempronius Gracchus committed suicide in 121 B.C. In the same area, the
ruins of a
Two aqueducts brought water to the Janiculum, one built by Augustus in 2 B.C., the Aqua Alsietina, and one built by Trajan in 109 A.D., the Aqua Traiana. The inscription on the faqade of the Casino of the Villa Spada suggests that remains of the Aqua Traiana (erroneously thought to be the Aqua Alsietina), if not the terminus itself, were still on the site when the house was built in 1632-41.
1 More precisely Villa Spada al Gianicolo to distinguish it from the Villa Spada al Casale di Castel Giubileo, which Fr Virgilio Spada bought in 1652 for the use of prelates descended from his brother Francesco. Garibaldi camped on its grounds just before his defeat at Mentana in 1867. This site is now a ruin on a hill overlooking the Via Salaria, over which a modern hotel called "Villa Spada" has been built. The whole modern residential area around the hill is also known as Villa Spada di Fidene.
Because of the
plentiful water supply, the Janiculum became, since the beginning of the 3rd
century A.D., a centre of the flour
milling industry of such importance that the
Aurelian walls were extended to the Janiculum in order to protect it. The milling industry came to an end after the
Ostrogoth king Witigis cut the aqueducts in 537 A.D. in a vain effort to
drive the Byzantine general Belisarius out
In 1607-1610, Pope Paul V rebuilt the Aqua Traiana using existing arches where possible. This aqueduct, now known as the Acqua Paola,
terminates in the Fontana Paola. Traces of the two aqueducts have been
found in the grounds of the
From the time of the early Renaissance, the great Roman families lived in palazzi in the city centre, while also owning property outside the
city, preferably on a height, where they could escape from the summer
heat. The term Villa Spada thus
denotes a property in the country with cultivated land and a house belonging to
the Spada family. The actual house is usually referred to as the Casino, Villino, or Casale di Villa Spada. This
revived a tradition going back to
antiquity. The ancient Roman gardens of Scipio Africanus (236-183 B.C.), Lucullus
(ca. 106-57 B.C.), Sallust (86-35 B.C.) and Maecenas (70-8 B.C.) were particularly famous. The gardens, which
Julius Caesar left to the people of
After the fall of
The earliest maps of
The first known
owners of the property were the Nobili family, first found in Orvieto where Manente was governor in the year
1017, having come to
The Nobili family produced two noted churchmen. Roberto Nobili (15411558), son of Vincenzo, was made a Cardinal at the age of 12
by his grand-uncle Julius III in 1553. Julius' successor, Paul IV, appointed
A brother of the Cardinal's, Pier Francesco Nobili (1548-1592), fought at the battle of Lepanto under his brother-in-law, Sforza Sforza. He is the first known owner of the property that later became the Villa Spada, having bought it late in the 16th century for 2,000 scudi.
Roberto Nobili S.J. (1577-1656) was born in Montepulciano, the eldest son
of Pier Francesco Nobili, but renounced his
title in favour of his younger brother, Vincenzo, in order to spend his life as a missionary in
(1589-1649), brother of the missionary, built the Casino and radically
transformed the property. In 1647, he added the chapel of St Francis to the
At the time when the house was built, the population of
The building of the house is commemorated by a Latin inscription on the facade, which in translation reads: Villa Nobilia: Traveller, be not unaware that here where you behold the house built by Vincenzo Nobili in pleasant surroundings to delight men's minds Augustus Caesar constructed the water outlet called by his name and drawn from Lake Alsiatinus at the 14th milestone and brought to the region of Trastevere. I have spoken. Go happily on your way and farewell. AD 1639.
The device of an eagle can be seen on the ceiling of the salon, on either
side of the central window in the facade, and
at each of the outside four corners of the house. The same device can be seen
surmounting each of the Nobili busts in the
The Villa faces towards the Alban Hills but the view is now largely obscured by trees and later constructions. Vincenzo Nobili may have been encouraged to adopt this orientation by an action taken against him by the friars of San Pietro in Montorio, who succeeded in making him agree not to have windows overlooking their garden.
Roberto Nobili, Vincenzo's son, who sold the Villa Nobili to the Spada family, died in 1713. Although he married twice, he left no heir.
The Spada family claimed descent from Alerano Artesino, who around the year 967 followed
a military career in Gubbio, whence the surname. An inscription in the Spada Chapel in the church of San
Girolamo della Carita commemorates
three Spada brothers, who saved St Francis of
Giacomo Spada (1502-1566) was Governor of
Brisighella and Counsellor of State under Pope
Pius V His son, Paolo Spada (1541-163 1), was treasurer of Romagna and
became extremely wealthy, with a great deal of real estate in Romagna and in
Rome and a considerable income from investments and lettings. He had a passion for building but little competence in
architecture. Giacomo Filippo (1576-1636), Paolo's son by his first wife, founded the
Bernardino became Nuncio to France in 1624-1627, Cardinal in 1626, and Papal Legate in
Cardinal Bernardino Spada inherited from his father a passion for
architectural tinkering to little purpose. In the 28 years in which he lived in Palazzo Spada,
he spent a further 55,000 scudi on various
works, frequently changing his mind and undoing previous work. He employed a
great variety of artists including Bernini and Borromini. He particularly liked trompe Z'cril and called to
Palazzo Spada was rented by the
The Cardinal's heir was his brother, Fr Virgilio Spada (1596-1662), who became
head of the Congregation of the Oratory in 1656. He was a self-taught architect and close friend of Francesco Borromini.
He became the private architect of Pope Innocent X and supervised the 1646-66
restoration of the Basilica of St John Lateran and the construction of a
prison in Via Giulia. He drew up the first
proposal for the layout of Piazza S. Pietro, a project later taken up by
In 1654-1660, Fr Virgilio designed the Spada Chapel in the church of S.
Girolamo della Carita, one of the masterpieces of Roman baroque. He received
advice from Borromini, and from other architects such as Pietro da
Cortona and Giulio Buratti. The fact that
the chapel was long thought to be Borromini's masterpiece is a tribute to Virgilio's competence. His nephew, Orazio, built the Spada
Chapel in the
Francesco's son, Orazio (1613-1687), inherited Palazzo Spada from Fr
Virgilio. He received from his wife, Maria Veralli,
whom he married in 1635, a dowry of 31,500 scudi,
together with the fief of Castel Viscardo, on which Urban VIII conferred the
title of Marchese. This estate covered 1,000 ha. and was worth 75,000 scudi.
Maria's inheritance also included a palazzo in
The daily life of Cardinal Bernardino, Fr Virgilio, and Orazio can be reconstructed
practically on a daily basis from the voluminous correspondence which they have
left behind. Orazio had considerable entrepreneurial ability, unusual among
Roman nobles of the time. He conducted many agricultural experiments at Castel Viscardo, including fish-farming and the
introduction of Chianti grapes. He
lived the life of a country gentleman, writing detailed letters to Maria in
Orazio's son, Bernardino Spada Veralli (1638-1716), did not show the same attention to business as his father. With him, the process of
accumulation characteristic of Paolo, Cardinal Bernardino, and Orazio came
to a sudden end. Under his management, the
estate began to go into a decline, which the addition of inheritances and dowries was not sufficient to
halt. By the late 19th century, the family was only moderately well off.
Bernardino sold a number of properties, although he did make one
purchase: he bought the Villa Nobili on
Bernardino's son, Clemente Spada Veralli (1679-1759), was a meticulous character. In 1700, his
wife, Maria Pulcheria Rocci, brought him a dowry of 30,000 scudi.
However, the run-down of the property continued. The cost of marrying his three daughters was a further drain on the
estate. As he had no surviving sons, Clemente, in accordance with the terms of
Fr Virgilio Spada's will, left his titles and property to his half-third cousin twice removed, Giuseppe Spada
Bonaccorsi (1752-1840) of the
In 1798, when the French were reorganizing much of
Clemente Spada Veralli (1778-1866) had a great interest
in agriculture and new experiments. He
transferred his experience in
After the assassination of his Prime Minister, Pellegrino Rossi, on
Convinced that they would
meet no resistance, the French marched on
Oudinot attacked on 3 June,
taking Villa Pamphili and Villa Corsini. Garibaldi sent waves of small
groups against the entrenched French position throughout the day. His losses were huge and included Angelo
Masina, Enrico Dandolo, and Goffredo Mameli. Mameli was taken to the Trinita
dei Pellegrini hospital beside the Palazzo
Spada, where the wounded were treated, and died there. He is buried in the monument to those who died for
This battle marked the end of any hope for the Republic. The French began a month of incessant shelling of the city, causing huge damage
to buildings. Garibaldi now made his headquarters in
the Villa Savorelli, just inside the Urbanian walls and the highest point in the sector. On 21 June,
the French captured a bastion on the
walls, forcing him to fall back to the line of the Aurelian walls with
the Villa Spada as his headquarters. When Garibaldi's wife Anita heard of Oudinot's attack of 30 June, she left Nice for
There was hand-to-hand fighting until the French made their final assault at on the morning of 30 June. The Villa Spada under Garibaldi's chief of staff, Luciano Manara, was surrounded and Manara was fatally wounded, when he showed himself from a top-floor window while directing operations.
2 This victory is commemorated in the name of the street, Viale XXX Aprile, which runs along one side of the Villa Spada.
After the fall of
the Villa Spada, the Republican leaders decided that further resistance was futile. On 3 July, the French occupied
Although the Villa Spada suffered extensive damage in the fighting, the main structure remained intact and it was quickly repaired according to the original design.
Clemente's son Vincenzo (1821-1855) married Lucrezia Fieschi Ravaschieri, and their children,
Federico Augusto (1847-1921), Maria (1853-1902),
and Olga Spada Veralli e Ravaschieri, all born in
In 1882, Don Maffeo was elected to Parliament. In 1884-90, he assumed responsibility
for the troubled opposition newspaper La Tribuna, and made it into one of the most important political newspapers in
A convention between
the Government and the Comune of Rome, whereby the Government made available a sum of Lire 50 million for the
enlargement of the new capital of
Don Maffeo was badly hit by the recession of 1887. This was just before he rented the Villa Spada to Mother Ignatius. Because of the acrimonious court case which followed a dispute over the terms of the lease, Don Maffeo has received a bad press from the historians of the Congregation. It seems that his financial difficulties led him to attempt to sell the Villa to the Sisters, for Lire 700,000, far more than it was worth.
speculation, such as a drainage scheme in the upper
The Banca Romana, one of six banks authorized to issue legal-tender banknotes,
took advantage of the property speculation in the early 1890s by extending excessive
credit to the building industry. As a result, the Bank issued notes which exceeded the legal limit by Lire 65 million, including Lire 40 million of false currency issued with duplicated serial numbers. Much
of this excess went in loans to politicians.
The resulting scandal led to the establishment of the Bank of Italy in 1893. Don Maffeo was linked in a small way
to the scandal, when a parliamentary commission
censured him together with some other deputies. He left
In accordance with the terms of their lease, the Sisters had the present
perimeter wall built along Viale XXX Aprile,
Via G. Medici, and the park containing the Monument to those who died for
As the male agnation of the Spada Veralli family had become extinct on the death of Federico in 1921, Ludovico was given royal authorisation in 1926 to prefix the Spada surname to that of Potenziani. Ludovico's daughter Myriam (1903-1961) was granted the right of succession for male descendants by royal decree of 1929. She does not appear to have married, however.
In 1925, the Villa Spada was bought for $200,000 in
dollars by Contessa Nora Khuen (nee
Lutzow), who sold it in January 1937 to
Valentina Amelia Fernanda Esmond (nee
Deutsch de la Meurthe). In March 1937, she
donated the Villa to her daughter Sybil
Yvonne Uzielli (nee Esmond). In 1938-9, her husband, Giorgio Uzielli, expended much energy in furnishings
and in landscaping the gardens, including the installation of the swimming
pool. He also added a major extension wing to
the house. In 1941, the
Uziellis were in the
Until the present century, the Villa was never the principal residence of
any of its owners. From 1632 to 1802, the Spadas lived in the well-known Palazzo Spada in Piazza Capo di Ferro and thereafter in
Besides the Casino, there was also a cottage on the property. The earliest parish records in 1685 show that a gardener living on the property, then described as "Giardino del S. Marchese Nobili". A vine-dresser was there in 1677 but the property was vacant in 1676. There is a gap in the records until 1729, when a peasant (villicus) is shown as living on the property (now the Villa Spada). The records suggest that members of a single family, sometimes accompanied by additional workmen, rented the property for most of the period of ownership by Spadas.
Before the Casino was built, the property was rented for 100 to 120 scudi a year. Before he died, Vincenzo was able to rent it to the Duke of Acquasparta for 500 scudi. In 1651, Vincenzo's widow, Eleonora Orsini, rented the property to Cardinal Bernardino Spada, the beginning of the Spada family's long association with the place.
In the early 18th century, the Casino was used by Bernardino Spada Veralli's brother, Cardinal Fabrizio Spada Veralli, who spent a considerable sum on works in the house and garden. It was later rented to another relative, Ciriaco Spada, for only 100 scudi a year. Bernardino's son Clemente also used it as a country retreat. The last parish records of 1877 mention an unnamed non-Catholic foreigner with two domestic servants and a coachman.
Thus, although the house is an impressive baroque building, at the time when it was built and for long afterwards, it was seen by its owners as a modest house at the centre of a pleasure-garden and vineyard in the country, of little importance compared to their more stately and centrally located principal residences, whether in Montepulciano, Brisighella, Rome, or Bologna.
The Nobili and Spada families came from outside
It was the Del Montes' prominence in the Church that brought the Nobili family to
AUTHOR: Gearóid Ó
Broin, Ambassador of