Once it was the property of a count who furnished candles to the Vatican; once it was the strategic headquarters of Garibaldi’s last stand against the French; finally it was gifted to the American Academy in Rome by Clara Jessup Heyland in 1909. The Villa Aurelia is large, romantic, diverse, historic and a hop, skip and a jump from AAR. I was lucky enough to go on a garden tour with Alessandra Vinciguerra, Bass Superintendent of Gardens at the American Academy in Rome.
The entry gate to the Villa Aurelia.
“Rome was a poem pressed into service as a city.” Anatole Broyard
“If we could be reborn wherever we chose, how crowded Rome would be, populated by souls who had spent their previous lives longing to inhabit a villa on the Janiculum.” Francine Prose, American writer
This current incarnation of the approach to the Villa is by Alessandra Vinciguerra, Both an art historian and a horticulturist, Alessandra used plants on the approach to Villa which are Mediterranean. Lantana montevidensis (Lavender) and Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’ (Rosemary) are favorites.
Like all Italian gardens, there are a number of fountains. Vinciguerra pointed that it was the custom to use discarded pots and other found objects in these kinds of garden walls/water features.
The Villa Aurelia is an important source of revenue for the Academy. Rented out for parties, galas and weddings, the checkerboard site is often floored with plywood for events. The pots of lemons need to be moved. The Villa Aurelia does not have a ‘Limonaria’ (lemon greenhouse). The pots are moved to the backside of Villa, which is a kind of staging area for events, as well as gardening tools, etc. There is a wonderful row of Agave Americana var marginata.
Below the backside of the Villa in 1895.
Vinciguerra gave us a little bit of history of the Villa. 25 years ago, when she first became Superintendent of Gardens, the grounds of the Villa were littered with debris, concrete, tools and tents. It was her vision to “re-imagine” the Villa as an historic garden, formal in many respects, romantic to a fault and necessarily sustainable.
It’s not all green. There are flowering plants such as agapanthus, plumbago, salvias, roses, and South African daisies.
The oldest pine tree in Rome is at the Villa Aurelia.(pictured above).
The Villa Aurelia can be visited by any member of the Academy community. It is often used for Academy events, such as concerts and lectures.
Helen Barolini is the author of Their Other Side: Six American Women and the Lure of Italy. “I often sat there in the park (public park across the street from the American Academy, not the Villa Aurelia) when I was at the American Academy and I like particularly to think of another New England woman, Emily Dickinson, who though a homebody and not the adventurer that Fuller (Margaret Fuller) was, in her own way was still an intrepid traveler through poetry to her predecessor’s Italy. Both New England women had, each in her own way, reached Italy.”
Veni, Vidi, Amavi (I Came I Saw I Loved)