Italian little Italies: Caprarola, Farnese's dream
- WTI Magazine #114 Apr 20, 2019
Perched on a spur of tuff in the woods of oak and beech forests of the Selva Cimina dreaded by the Roman armies, the borgo of Caprarola expresses the geniality of the Italian Renaissance. The Farnese family entrust to the architecture and the urban planning the celebration of its power, that picks up the best of that age in the field of art: thus, instructs the Vignola to rebuild the old urban core to put at the height of the new palace and its dream of power. But Caprarola is not only farmous for the Farnese Palace: it is a sequence of visual games, the ancient borgo, the tuff houses in the Corsica district, the bridge of the Nuns.
Following there is a ashlar portal, a large window, with a particular perspective, game of symmetries combined with allegories, a Renaissance fountain, the rest of a medieval tower, the steps adorned with geraniums, give a sense of history, of time that passes in the ancient Tuscia of the Etruscans.
The Farnese Palace was conceived as one of the most successful and appreciated works of urban planning of the Renaissance. A perfect planning, where the best architects and painters of the time collaborated. Alessandro Farnese I entrusts the construction of a defensive structure to Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, who has drawn up a fortification on the pentagonal plan. The work began in 1530, and was suspended when cardinal Alessandro became Pope (1534). His nephew Cardinal Alessandro Farnese the Young finished the work in 1559. Architect Jacopo Barozzi by Vignola was chosen, he kept the outer pentagon perimeter by Sangallo project but made a complete transformation of the spaces of the fortress by transforming it into a great suburban villa. Moreover the mole and the prestige of the new dwelling perfectly adapted to the medieval borgo built on the ridge of tuff. The Vignola designs a straight road that rips the old borgo and is located on the axis of the seabed of the palace. This spectacular straight road (currently via Filippo Nicolai) and the articulation of space in perspective in front of the shallow water, allow the visitor the scenic and spectacular progressive presentation of the Palazzo Farnese. Between 1550 and 1560, in order to achieve this magnificent Renaissance prospectus, Vignola had to construct bridges, stairs, underpasses, slash part of medieval neighborhoods, restructure buildings and churches, and build new buildings. The palace has, therefore, regenerated, the borgo. Palazzo Farnese extends over five levels: the first three floors are joined by a wonderful invention of the Vignola, a helical staircase (scala Regia) composed of thirty peperino columns, which is modeled on that of Bramante for the Vatican Belvedere.
The internal decoration (1560-1576) entrusted to Taddeo Zuccari and his workshop, and then completed by his brother Frederick, celebrates the story of the Farnese family with the expressive ways typical of Mannerism. The themes of the paintings were chosen by cardinal Alessandro and the humanist Annibal Caro.
Jacopo Del Duca and Girolamo Rainaldi designes the Upper Gardens (1579-1587) with the magnificent Catena dei Delfini, the Casina del Piacere, il Giardino delle Cariatidi, water games, sculptures, fountains, plant elements, all enclosed in a beautiful park. The Lower Gardens, designed by Vignola himself, are also rich in statues, fountains, mosaics, caves, sea deities, waterfalls, vegetable essences, according to the Mannerist taste.
All the other rooms are marvelous, from the Mappamondo room, with geography and astronomy as they were represented in 1574, to the rooms painted with the Fasti Farnesiani and the circular courtyard with portico on the ground floor and loggia to the upper one. Even if conditioned by the construction of Palazzo Farnese, the old town centre retains its medieval appearance in the Aquilone and Casacce districts, in Borgo Vecchio (with the palaces of Podestà and Fabrizi-Valentini) and in what was once the castle of the Di Vico family, first defensive fortress of the borgo (XIII-XIV century), then renovated by the Farnese and used as a chancellery.
Worth of note are also the churches and the palaces with their monumental portals and large frames in peperinomarble. You can start your visit from the San Marco church, built at the end of the XVI century from a drawing by Vignola. Towards Via Diritta you will arrive to the nineteenth century fountain of Gargoyle and to the former hospital of St. John (1495) renovated by Vignola and we’ll reach then Palazzo Restituti, with the majestic portal. In piazza P. Cuzzoli you’ll admire the Fontana delle Boccacce, with three masks and coats of the Farnese’s, and in piazza V. Emanuele the church of the Madonna della Consolazione (1566), masterpiece wanted by Alessandro Farnese, with a wood altar overlaid with gold designed by Vignola, coffered ceiling decorated (1590) and the carved wood portal (1564). On the same square you can admire palazzo Mariani, designed by Vignola in 1571.
The name derives from “goat” – the population was mainly composed by shepherds and indicates the barn in which the animals were kept.
Local product and dishes
Caprarola is famous for its large hazelnut plantations around lake Vico. The local precious hazelnut is used in pastry for the production of biscuits (tozzetti , amaretti) and as a dipping sauce for some types of pasta. Among the pasta dishes, worth to taste are the pici, hand-made pasta with eggs, flour and water, and the taco, a sort of fettuccine without eggs. Among second courses, the freshwater fish of the lake (“whitefish” on the grill, threads of “persian” grilled or fried) or roast kid typical of Tuscia.