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The facade of the Palazzo Farnese, a product of the minds of Sangallo and Michelangelo working for Pope Paul III (Alessandro Farnese, 1468 - 1534 - 1549 (81)) is as close to perfection as makes no difference. 


Inside (and below) is the famous galleria frescoed by Annibale Carracci in the years 1597 - 1608.  I


The Palazzo was the setting chosen by Puccini for Act II of his opera "Tosca", where Floria Tosca, after a lot of singing, knives and kills the nasty Scarpia after he had earlier let slip "Tosca, you made me forget god" and then later made her a proposition which turned out to be dramatically unsuccessful from his point of view.  Act I of Tosca is set in the huge Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, and Act III takes place in Castel Sant'Angelo down the road from the Vatican.


The Palazzo itself ended up in the hands of the French Bourbon family through various marriages, and most of the priceless artefacts inside were moved to their main base in Naples.  It was purchased by the French Government in 1911, but the Italian Government insisted on a 25 year buyout option, which they exercised exactly 25 years later!  The building was then leased to the French for 100 years for use as their embassy - it will be interesting to see what happens in 2036! 


Despite embassy security, it is still possible to join limited tours run by the embassy, though be warned that bookings have to be made months ahead.  Details are shown at the bottom of this page.



Pope Paul III painted by Titian c1543 - now in Toledo Cathedral

as well as the Galleria Nazionale Capodimonte, Naples - image source unknown



Pope Paul III (Alessandro Farnese) - 1468 - 1534 - 1549 (81)


 Painted in 1543 by Titian - you'll find him facing down the el Grecos in the Sacristy of Toledo Cathedral (and in the Capodimonte National Gallery in Naples).


Link to Popes of the Renaissance


Paul III was the Pope who kicked off the Council of Trent - The Council of the Counterreformation - in 1545.


Alessandro's sister, the reputedly drop dead gorgeous Giulia Farnese, was mistress of the earlier Spanish Borgia Pope Alessandro VI .   Sadly not one authentic image of her survives (see this web page), and  one of the few memories of her name is the road named after her which runs down the back of the Palazzo Farnese.  Cardinal Farnese received rapid advancement under Alessandro VI, leading to his nickname of "the Petticoat Cardinal".  He had four children by his Roman mistress - Pier Luigi, Paolo, Ranuccio, and Costanza - and later made sure that two of his grandchildren were appointed cardinals whilst still in their teens (probably the two "nephews" shown below, nephew being the euphemistic term often used to describe the children / grandchildren of Popes and Cardinals).  



Pope Paul III and nephews Alessandro and Ottavio by Titian (1546 - he had apparently aged rapidly since the earlier painting above!)

Galleria Nazionale Capodimonte, Naples (and there is a copy in the Farnese Palace) - image source unknown



Farnese Palace - back garden


There is a serious and large Farnese garden at Caprarola - near the Lago di Vico, 50 odd kms north of Rome 



One of the guards' room occupants who got left behind


Tomb stuff in the back



Apart from the Galleria shown later, the other major "room" on show is the Room of the Guards - a beautifully proportioned space at the head of the staircase with a magnificent carved wooden ceiling, which looks out over the piazza  - and for Dom P a much more enticing space than the famous Galleria at the back.




The galleria frescoed by Annibale Carracci in the years 1597 - 1608 - it was (around) here that Floria Tosca killed her would be seducer, the awful Scarpia in Act II of the Puccini opera named after her.





"Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore, non feci mai male ad anima viva ......"  "I lived for art, I lived for love, never did I harm a living creature ......" laments the tragic Tosca towards the end of Act II in a famously beautiful aria as she heads towards deciding that the awful Scarpia has to be knifed .......


In 1992 there was a magnificent production of Tosca, which was broadcast live from Sant'Andrea della Valle (Act I), the Palazzo Farnese (Act II) and the Castel Sant'Angelo (Act III) over a period of 24 hours.  We have it on VHS tape (remember them?) and it is absolutely worth making a special effort to find. 


Also shown on the right is the remastered 1953 Callas / di Stefano / Gobbi / de Sabata recording at La Scala, Milan, which is special not just because it captured Callas at the top of her career singing the part that was "hers", but because there is a rarely found acoustic magic in the recording - we have the earlier mono version and feel that it is simply the best.











Limited places are available for tours of the Farnese Palace which take place on non-holiday Thursday afternoons, but you will have to book months in advance at


The Office of the Cultural Attaché of the French Embassy in Rome, 250 Via Giulia (behind the Farnese Palace)

Tel: (39) 0668 89 2818, Fax: (39) 0668 80 9791, web:  email:



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