Villa Aurelia

Largo di Porta San Pancrazio n. 1-2., Rome

Built circa 1660, for Cardinal Girolamo Farnese (1599-1668), Governor of Rome, on land purchased from Pope Paulo III that looks up towards St. Peter's and down over the city. It remained in the Farnese family until 1731 when it was acquired by the young Duke of Parma who ruled Naples and Sicily before becoming better known as King Charles III of Spain. He never lived here, but rented it to various dignitaries, a tradition continued by his son, Ferdinand, King of the Two Sicilies. In 1774, it was purchased by Count Ferdinando Giraud who lived here until his death in 1841. The new owner, Count Alessandro Savorelli - who made his fortune manufacturing candles - collaborated with his father-in-law, the architect Virginio Vespignani, to both restore and enlarge the villa to give it its present appearance. But almost as soon as the works were complete, the French invaded Rome and General Garibaldi made it his headquarters...

This house is best associated with...

Clara Sophia Jessup

Mrs Clara Sophia (Jessup) Heyland


Alexander Samuel Heyland

Major Alexander S. Heyland, of Villa Aurelia, Rome


While it enjoyed an unparalleled vantage point, it was also a sorely conspicuous target and cannon-shot destroyed the roof and almost the entire southern facade. After peace was restored, Savorelli managed to use his influence to obtain state funding to have his villa restored! After his death in 1864, it was acquired by a charitable institution, the Monte di Pietà, and gradually fell into a worsening state of repair until 1885. That year, it was purchased by an American heiress, Mrs Clara (Jessup) Heyland (whose brother married one of the Queen Mother's aunts) and her husband, an invalided British Artillery officer, Major Heyland, who she married at Beaulieu in Newport. They named it "Villa Aurelia" and made it their year-round home while Clara dedicated her fortune to its restoration.

Clara outlived her husband and having no children when she died in 1909 she bequeathed the property to the American Academy in Rome (an institution spearheaded by J.P. Morgan). The Academy still owns and maintains the property today which is now a popular venue for weddings, concerts etc., and since 2002 has been open to the public.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 07/05/2021 and last updated on 07/05/2021.
Image from the Villa Aurelia


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