At the beginning of the 1700s, the princes Torlonia, of French origin, were cloth merchants and tailors in Rome’s Piazza di Spagna. Their strong social relationships formed through their commercial activities allowed them to found a bank and accumulate enormous wealth in one century. For the Roman people, the name Torlonia became a synonym for great wealth. In 1806, construction began on the villa, designed by the famous architect Giuseppe Valadier for the banker Giovanni Raimondo Torlonia. Valadier turned two pre-existing buildings into a Palace and the modern Casino dei Principi. He renovated the grounds, creating symmetrical and perpendicular paths with the palace at the intersection, and embellished the villa with classical sculptures that he bought for that purpose. In 1832, Alessandro Torlonia continued the works on the villa and built the Capanna Svizzera, the initial nucleus of the Casina delle Civette. In 1840, construction began on a greenhouse – the Serra Moresca. The main layout comprised seven compartments decorated with Moorish graffiti. All of the compartments had large windows in cast iron decorated with multicoloured glass and hexagonal cast iron columns. A picture from the 1930s shows the Serra in its original form. The fragility of its elements, especially the glass, caused rapid decay.
Restoration of the Serra Moresca at Villa Torlonia
At the end of the 1970s, the Municipality of Rome purchased Villa Torlonia and started restoring the architectural emergencies inside the park. The complex of the Serra and Torre Moresca (Moorish greenhouse and tower), a 19th century masterpiece by architect Giuseppe Jappelli, was unfortunately in a desolating condition of abandonment. It had also been partially destroyed by WWII bombings and the damnatio memoriae that it underwent after Prince Torlonia had rented it to Mussolini for 20 years. To carry out the restoration, it was necessary to disassemble the cast iron windows and doors and transport them to Neri’s laboratories. The columns were restored on site, because it was nearly impossible to separate them from the surrounding masonry.
The greenhouse structure was one of the few examples of iron architecture in Italy. Nevertheless, records of the foundry that manufactured the various pieces were not found. Research conducted by Fondazione Neri seemed to indicate that the foundry could have been the Opificio di Tivoli, owned by the Papal State. Surprisingly, confirmation of this hypothesis was found when the name ‘Tivoli’ was found on one of the columns during the cleaning process. Specific tests were conducted on all of the elements managed. At the Neri workshops, all of the objects were counted and registered before restoration began. If the piece was found to be irreparably damaged, a faithful reproduction was made. Steel counterframes were made for each window to hold the stained glass panes. Lastly, the entire structure was reassembled. A glass artist then applied magnificent coloured glass on all of the greenhouse’s windows.