Just as the Fellowship seems to be winding down, a handful of amazing trips visits crop up. Last night fellow Fellow Tom Mayes and I met Didier Repellin, an all-star preservationist from Lyon whose work includes the French government’s properties in Rome. That’s a handful of churches (including San Trinità dei Monti, at the top of the Spanish Steps), and the French Academy, which is housed in the Villa Medici. We spent a couple of hours touring the Villa–from its Roman foundations up. Fascinating stuff, including a horse ramp (left) that’s now an art gallery, and a Roman reservoir under the entry courtyard.
Palimpsests like this happen all the time here–but rarely with such clear divisions between one century and another. The Roman reservoir was oriented to run along the Acqua Virgine, parallel to the hill on which the Villa Borghese stands. But the Medici wanted to face the city, so there’s about an 8° offset between the Roman structures and the house that sits on them. Tricky stuff to preserve if you like flat floors.
The French fellows have studios that are scattered throughout the Medici grounds–a well-preserved 16-square formal garden that runs along the Aurelian wall. One of the pavilions has been recently turned into a gallery for the Academy’s plaster casts, while another has ceilings painted in frescoes depicting every known bird or plant in Rome at the time. (This room has a suspicious staircase running down to the base of the Roman wall. Not so much for escape as for, um, bringing people in illicitly.)
I need to get back during the day to see the gardens themselves, but getting into the guts of a building with this much history made for an extraordinary trip.