Secret Rome: Courtyards

The Palazzo Borghese trumps all other courtyards for its beauty; the photograph below features one of the many sculptures to be seen in this courtyard. The courtyard is enormous and majestic and is still owned by the powerful Borghese family, with the exception of some apartments that have been sold.


How often have you strolled through Rome’s historic center and wondered what’s behind the enormous wooden doors of each palazzo you pass? I often do, hoping to catch a glimpse of what’s behind these doors. During the day the doors are frequently kept open allowing resident’s cars to enter and exit. On the  weekends and during the porter’s off hours the huge doors are closed and access to each palazzo is through a smaller door carved out of the larger door.

When I first came to Rome and met my husband he lived in a palazzo just like this: Palazzo Ricci. It’s one of the most splendid palazzi in Rome and I was enchanted by the big door and the beauty that lay behind it. It’s as if you’re in a fairy tale and gaining access to a secret garden each time you enter. We lived in this palazzo for a number of years but each time I’m in the area I stop by and stroll through the courtyard, admiring the frescoes and the architecture.


When you’re visiting the historic part of Rome and find an open palazzo door take a peek inside. You’ll usually have the pleasure of glimpsing a gorgeous fountain, garden, frescoes and sculptures. And if the porter is there he may just let you walk inside to have a better glance at the courtyard. Most are hundreds of years old, owned by a powerful Roman family, so each palazzo is steeped in a rich history. These days many of the families have either sold or rented out apartments within their palazzi due to the high cost of upkeep.

Below is the Palazzo Capponi Antonelli courtyard.


Once a year there is a chance to see many of these courtyards open and accessible to the public. Cortili Aperti (Open Courtyards) takes place one weekend in May so if you’re in Rome in May you won’t want to miss this opportunity. During Cortile Aperti the participating palazzi also feature artisans at work, music and art shows so there’s much more to enjoy in addition to the courtyards themselves. There are hundreds of lovely courtyards in Rome and Cortili Aperti features only a few dozen courtyards. What’s open that weekend simply scrapes the surface of the vast treasures to be seen behind palazzi doors.

Here are artisans at work restoring paintings in the Palazzo Sacchetti courtyard.


Take the time to explore Rome, its palazzi and courtyards. In many ways they are the key to Rome’s rich history and culture. I’ve captured only a few photographs of what is in store for everyone who slows down their pace, and takes in every gorgeous building in the labyrinth of streets in Rome’s historic center.

Here are a few more photographs of the magnificent Palazzo Borghese and its courtyard:




Many of the palazzi boast lovely fountains within their courtyards, such as this one at the Palazzo Cenci:


I’ve walked by the Palazzo Taverna dozens of times and had no idea what a beautiful courtyard lay behind its unimpressive entrance. The palazzo is not one, but five separate buildings attached together. It’s almost large enough to be considered a small village of its own. Below is a detail of the ivy-laden castle within the palazzo complex.


Just to the left of the castle, in the center of the courtyard is a lovely fountain:


A sculpture in the Palazzo Malvezzi Campeggi courtyard:


Piazza Mattei’s Fontana delle Tartarughe was designed by Giacomo della Porta and built from 1581-1588. It features four bronze youths and four dolphins, sculpted by the Florentine sculptor Taddeo Landini. Four bronze turtles are on the upper basin, quite probably sculpted by Bernini.


Palazzo Costaguti is also located in Piazza Mattei. The palazzo was built in the 16th century and then purchased by the Costaguti family. The courtyard is filled with exquisite frescoes, like the one below, and were painted by various artists including Guercino, Domenichino, Cavalier d’Arpino and Lanfranco.


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