The Villa Sciarra, located on the slopes of the Janiculum, not far from the American and Spanish academies, is steeped in lore: in ancient times the grounds were considered the sacred grove of Furrina, an ancient Roman goddess associated with water; Caesar was said to have hosted Cleopatra in the gardens; and in 1906 an ancient marble statue of Bacchus with gilded face and hands was unearthed on the property.
Surrounding the arched house are two fountains with fauns while cherubs grace the Fontana dei Putti. Another fountain features four sphinxes personifying the human vices wrath, lust, greed, and gluttony. The villa’s tower over the 15th-century house completes the scene with a panoramic view that one can hardly believe.
The villa changed hands many times, and was given its current title when it was acquired by the Colonna di Sciarra family in 1811, when the estate was enlarged. It survived the battles of Garibaldi against the pope and the French at Porta S. Pancrazio nearby. It was parcelled out to creditors in the 1880s after its then owner Prince Maffeo Sciarra II went bankrupt. In 1902 a wealthy American couple, George Wurts and Henriette Tower, reassembled and restored the estate. They renovated the house in the neo-renaissance style, decorated the land with statues, planted exotic flora and brought in white peacocks to stroll the grounds.
After Wurts’ death, Tower donated the villa to the Italian state as a public park in 1932. It has since become the location of the Italian Institute of Germanic Studies as well as a place were the public can temporarily leave reality behind.
The 70,000 sqm-park had a happy ending with its restoration in 2005. The park features exotic examples of topiary shaped to resemble animals. A garden representing the 12 months of the year was also planted, making the space a place people can enjoy all year round.
One of Rome's smaller and lesser-known parks, the villa can be accessed at Via Dandolo 47.