Villa Torlonia is one of the most fascinating buildings in the capital, whose main entrance is in Via Nomentana. It is a noble Roman villa set in a garden that strikes for its richness and for the presence of various buildings to be discovered gradually while strolling around the park. Among them, la Casina delle Civette (Little House of the Owls) cannot but strike the eye of the visitor sensitive to the charm of mystery, symbolism and fantasy.
The villa is historically linked to the name of the Torlonia family. More precisely, Giovanni Torlonia, after becoming marquis at the end of the eighteenth century, bought the Villa Colonna and entrusted the architect Giuseppe Valadier, one of the protagonists of the Italian neoclassical movement, the task of making improvements to the building so that it may become an artistic manifestation of the noble status of the family. Consequently, changes were made on the Casino dei Principi, on the Stables, on the entrance and also on the garden with a majestic project in which over time various classic statues and famous obelisks found place.
The complex was enriched thanks to the initiative of Giovanni’s son, Alessandro Torlonia, to whom we owe the arrangement of other buildings, such as the Temple of Saturn and the Amphitheatre, the Orangery, next to the ponds, and to what would later become the Little House of the Owls, initially called the Swiss Cabin.
The complex is now an eclectic mix of styles and atmospheres, with exotic appeal of ancient times and the Middle Ages of self-indulgent taste. What everyone does not know is that the house was for a time also the residence of Mussolini, precisely up to 1943. Afterwards it occupied by the Anglo-American troops and only in 1977 it became property of the municipality of Rome.
The so-called Little House of the Owls, which had been the residence of Giovanni Torlonia Jr., is a unique and original building in style and decor. This building rises not far from the main residence, in a more intimate and peripheral area; it was commissioned by Alessandro Torlonia and Giuseppe Jappelli during the forties of the nineteenth century. Today it appears as a fusion of two complexes, the villa and its dependence, connected by a tunnel and an underground passage.
At first sight it is like being in a medieval village. Alessandro’s grandson, Giovanni Torlonia, restored this construction, typically romantic in its shapes and in the materials used. The beautiful stained glass windows belonged to this period, especially the one with the famous owls, which, as can be easily imagined, suggested the name of Little House of the Owls, replacing that of Swiss Cabin, once identifying the building. This iconographic theme was very dear to Alessandro, who tried to introduce it in many decorations related to the environments of this Little House and in such great quantity that, due to the presence of so many symbols, this complex is often considered a rich exoteric dictionary. Today this site boasts a mixture of styles and is enriched by the art deco adornments developed during the twentieth century. Doubtlessly, these glass walls make this building unique and “visionary”.
After a restoration sponsored by the city of Rome, by the Department of Cultural Affairs Superintendence of the Cultural Heritage, various areas of Villa Torlonia are now open to visitors – the nineteenth-century Casino Nobile, which is today the Museum of the Villa, the Casino dei Principi, the Museum of the Casina delle Civette and the wonderful garden.