Palazzo Venezia in Rome: what is it and what to see

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Three huge facts about Palazzo Venezia in Rome:

  • The first civil renaissance palace in Rome
  • One of the buildings made with the marble of the Colosseum
  • A secret garden where to escape the chaos of the city

Isn’t this already enough to visit?

What is Palazzo Venezia?

This is a hidden gem which is right next to one of the main squares of Rome, Piazza Venezia.

Palazzo Venezia is the first civil Renaissance architecture in Rome.

The story of Palazzo Venezia started when the cardinal Pietro Barbo, who came from Venice, in 1451 became titular cardinal of the church of Saint Marco, which today is right behind the palace.

The cardinal thought the residency of the titular cardinal was too small and humble, so he decided to expand it. So he built this new palace and called it Palazzo Barbo, from his name.

Some years later the cardinal became pope, pope Paul II. As a pope he expanded the palace, which then became the papal palace.

In the following years the palace kept expanding towards its extension today.

Why is it called Palazzo “Venezia” (Venice)?

This palace has always had a connection with Venice.

Palazzo Venezia in fact translates with Venice Palace. This is because this palace in the 1500s, became the embassy of the Republic of Venice.

You need to imagine that Italy back then did not exist. The Italian peninsula consisted of many different states and one of them was the Republic of Venice.

While Rome was in the church state, the republic of Venice existed for 1100 years! And it was one of the most powerful republics in Europe!

Before it became home to the Venetian embassy, Palazzo Venezia’s name was Palazzo Barbo. This name comes from the cardinal Pietro Barbo. He built the palace in the 1400s and he later became Pope Paul III.

He was from Venice, so this palace somehow already had a connection to Venice since its very beginnings.

But now let’s go inside and let’s see what’s there for us to explore and discover!

A brief history of Palazzo Venezia in Rome

The entrance is in via del Plebiscito, we buy the ticket, which you can purchase either online or on site, and then we walk in!

At first Pope Paul II Barbo lived in the Vatican, but soon he moved his residency in this palace. It was a much more central palace in the city.

After the death of Paul II, more cardinals used this palace as their residence. In the meantime the palace became a real attraction for artists. Because the cardinals that resided here contributed with the exhibit of their own collections.

Pope Paul III Farnese moved his residence in the Palace, because of its central location in the city.

In 1564 part of the palace was given to the republic of Venice and used as their embassy. This is when the palace started to be called Palazzo Venezia.

[Fresco of Pio IV Medici who donates the palace to the Republic of Venice in the 1564]

The story of the Palace continues with a lot of changes. It became property of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. Then part of it was demolished at the end of the 1800s because of the reorganization of the square of Piazza Venezia.

The secret garden in fact, was completely demolished and rebuilt on the other side of the palace, to make space for the Vittoriano monument and to the works that made the square of Piazza Venezia symmetrical.

In 1916, during WW1 the Italian government decided to confiscate Palazzo Venezia from the Austrians and to designate it as a museum. PAlazzo Venezia served also as a location to protect the artworks coming from many different museums from the bombings of the war.

Later on Benito Mussolini chose Palazzo Venezia as his own residence as well as the headquarters of the Fascist party. He saw in Palazzo Venezia a good element in his propaganda, where he could collect huge crowds listening to his speeches from the balcony of the palace.

After WW2 the palace separated from political life and diplomacy and became fully dedicated to the museum and the exhibitions. And still does today.

What’s there to see in Palazzo Venezia? 

This is what you will see in Palazzo Venezia in Rome, in the same order as you would visit.

Portico overlooking the Giardino Grande

As you enter the Palazzo Venezia, the route of your visit starts with the Grand Staircase, which leads to the main floor upstairs. Here you will find a door opening on one of the porticos facing the Giardino Grande, the great garden. That is a garden that you can access for free, without the need to buy a ticket. It is a really nice escape from the bustle of this area of Rome, where you can sit and relax surrounded by trees, ancient ruins and monumental fountains.

But there is another balcony which is even more important and monumental..

The Loggia of the Blessings

The Pope could access this loggia directly from his private apartments. He would look down and give his blessings to the crowds gathered in front of the church of St Mark, which is right below this loggia.

There is an incredible detail about this loggia. The travertine stones that make these arches come from from none other than.. The Colosseum and the Theater of Marcellus!

It sounds incredible to us today, but this is what many popes and rich families of Rome had been doing for centuries. If you want to know more about this, read “Why is the Colosseum “broken”?

From the Loggia of the Blessings you can see a beautiful and unusual view over the Vittoriano and the Capitoline hill.

Apartments of Pope Paul II

Now let’s walk back inside. We will walk through a series of rooms which are for the most part empty. These rooms were the rooms of the Pope’s apartment. And it was in these very rooms that Paul II kept his collection of carved hardstones, coins and jewels. The pope loved his collection so much that he used to walk around the palace at night to admire his own treasures, under the candle lights. Because of the candle lights which were visible from the windows from outside, rumors were circulating that there were ghosts and demons living in the palace.

And this is what Pope Paul II Barbo, who built this palace, looked like.

In this room you’ll see the emblem of the Pope Paul II Barbo. This was the bedroom of Paul II. You will also notice these beautiful terracotta floors, dating to the beginning of the 1900s, so these are not the original floors of the Pope.

In the following room we find this fresco depicting one of the key events of Palazzo Venezia. This is in fact Pope Pius IV that donated Palazzo Venezia to the ambassador of the Republic of Venice in the 1500s.

This room is where the Pope welcomed his guests. Look up to see the wooden ceilings, these were the originals of the 1400s.

In this room you’ll find some terracotta money boxes from the 1600s. This is where the Pope used to keep his collection of coins and medals.

Next room is the Room of the Labors of Hercules, because of the frescoes on the upper part of the walls depicting the labors of Hercules.

The Room of the Worldmap (Sala del Mappamondo)

The next room is one of the most impressive rooms of Palazzo Venezia: the Sala del Mappamondo, the room of the world map. The name originates from a huge world map onto one of the longer walls, which has unfortunately gone lost.

This has been the reception hall for the Pope Paul II, as well as for the following popes who lived here. And centuries later also for the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who used to work in this room, which also features the famous balcony from where he used to address the crowds.

After WW2 this room was used for the museum exhibitions and today is part of the route of the visit.

The incredible features of this room are the optical illusions of the painted columns onto the walls and the beautiful mosaics on the floors, depicting the myth of the Rape of Europe and zodiac signs. The mosaics are from the 1900s and they are inspired by the thermal baths of Neptune of the ancient coastal town of Ostia Antica.

The Room of the Battles

This next room is another room that the Pope wanted as his reception halls, having in mind Palazzo Venezia as a valid alternative to the Vatican palace.

Today there’s no decoration left from the original setting: the floors and the frescoes that you see today are from the early 1900s. This room hosted legendary concerts. In fact even Mozart played here, as well as Gioacchino Rossini!

It is called the Room of the Battles because of the circular disks painted on the walls mentioning the battles that Italy fought during WW1.

With this we saw the last room of the Pope Paul II. But the route continues, because after Paul II other cardinals expanded the palace with their own rooms. Here we have the room of the cardinal Cybo, which today houses the art collection of the Museum of Palazzo Venezia. 

Mystic wedding of Santa Caterina – Ciro Ferri

Cleopatra melts a pearl into a glass of wine – Carlo Maratta

Sala Altoviti

This is the room of the banker Altoviti, who was the banker of Pope Julius III. The room is decorated with frescoes with the stories of the Goddess Ceres, goddess of the earth.

These frescoes were made in the 1500s by none other than.. Giorgio Vasari!

In the middle of the room we can find a bronze bust of Pope Pius V.

In the following rooms we see other collections including a collection of weapons coming from different places in the world. Look at these helmets! Imagine how difficult it would feel to fight with one of them over your head!

The Secret Garden – the Palazzetto

Last but not least, we end our visit with the Secret Garden of the Pope! This is the so-called “palazzetto”, which used to be located on the other side of the main palace, where piazza Venezia is today. The Palazzetto was entirely moved here stone by stone. That’s how they made space for the construction of the new Piazza Venezia and the Vittoriano at the end of the 1800s. 

The Pope had direct access to the palazzetto and his secret garden from his private apartments. This is where he kept a lot of his collections too.

The visit of Palazzo Venezia ends in the Giardino Grande, the first garden we saw at the beginning from the balcony.

We hope you enjoyed this little tour of Palazzo Venezia. lLet us know what you think of it and you had the chance to see this palace in person! This is just a short preview, there’s more collections to explore.. But you’ll have to come and see them in person!

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Piazza, our online community to get more insights on Rome off the beaten path! Also tell us what you would like to see in the next video/read in the next article!

Written by Federica

Creative director of Live Virtual Guide. Her favorite things are gelato, pizza and the hidden gems of Rome.

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