The Salario district is in northeastern Rome. Its centerpiece is the neo-Classical Villa Torlonia built in the mid-Eighteenth Century for an extremely wealthy family. But times changed and the property was rented for only one lira per year. When you consider that the tenant was none other than Benito Mussolini, that rent hardly represented the property’s true value.
After BM lost his job (and his life) the villa was allowed to decay, but it has now been reopened as a museum operated by the municipality of Rome. Don’t miss the medieval-style Casina delle Civette (House of the Owls) on its grounds.
Just north of Villa Torlonia you’ll find the beautiful Villa Paganini public gardens.
To the west of the district you’ll find the beautiful Villa Albani originally built for Cardinal Alessandro Albani, the nephew of Pope Clemens XI, in part to house the Cardinal’s spectacular collection of antiquities. And perhaps to reaffirm their vows of poverty. Later this property passed to the Torlonia family, the most affluent family of Nineteenth Century Rome where the competition was said to be tough. I don’t know which of the two villas the family prefers.
The Santa Constanza Church in Salario’s northeast corner was built for Emperor Constantine I in the Fourth Century as a mausoleum for his daughters. Don’t miss the beautiful flora and fauna mosaics and scenes of a Roman grape harvest that decorate the church interior. The nearby Santa Agnese Fuori Le Mura Church also dates from the Fourth Century but was rebuilt in the mid-Eighth Century.
It includes the ruins of some catacombs and the crypt where St. Agnes was buried at the age of 13, murdered because she refused to marry the son of the local prefect. The church was altered over the centuries, but the form and the major part of the structure of the basilica remain intact.
The Villa Borghese district is situated just north of the center of Rome. It carries the name of a park designed in 1605 for Cardinal Scipione Borghese replacing a vineyard. About 500 years later the Villa became state property.
This park hosted the 1911 World Exposition and several of the pavilions are still standing. Make sure to see the British School. The center of the park boasts “Giardino del Lago,” an artificial lake complete with an Ionic temple to Aesculapius, the god of health. Despite his vows of poverty Cardinal Borghese was an extravagant patron of the arts. The Villa Borghese hosts the Museo e Galleria Borghese, whose collection includes sculptures by Bernini and paintings by Titian, Rubens and Raphael.
What if you prefer modern art? The National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome at the northern edge of this district offers the most important Italian collection of paintings and sculptures of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
It includes masterpieces by Goya, Van Gogh, Degas, Monet, Cezanne, Modigliani, Mondrian, and others too numerous to mention here. But I do have to include Delacroix, Renoir, Rossetti, Miro, Kandinsky and Klimt.
The kids may prefer the Museo Zoologico and a small redeveloped zoo, the Bioparco, whose emphasis is on conservation. You’ll find them in the district’s northeast corner. When visiting the Piazza di Siena, a round square in the center of the district, you may want to time your visit for the end of May and enjoy an international horse show that has been running for almost 80 years.
Finish your tour of Villa Borghese at the Piazza del Popolo, one of the largest plazas in the city; right in the center you’ll see a three thousand year old and counting obelisk. You might want to eat in the Casina Valadier with its spectacular terrace. This joint was quite popular for German and British officers during World War II, depending on who was winning.
The Porto del Populo was once the northern gate to the city of Rome. Next to the gate is the Church of Santa Maria del Populo that offers a great art collection. Don’t miss Raphael masterpiece, Cappella Chigi, known to fans of Dan Brown and Tom Hanks.