The Torlonia family is a family of recent nobility, which in the 19th century became the richest family in Rome.
The rise began with Giovanni Torlonia (1755-1829) which culminated in Italy during the French occupation of the city from 1805 to 1814.
He was the son of a French cloth merchant, Tourlonias, who arrived in Rome in 1750. Father and son, with a series of real estate speculations, acquired large estates, palaces and villas, and created the Banca Marino-Torlonia.
In 1814 the Pope appointed him Prince and the family over that century became related to the noble families of the city: Colonna, Borghese and Orsini. Their palaces and villas were in Piazza Venezia, Lungara, Via Salaria, Via Nomentana, Borgo Pio, Frascati, Poli, Avezzano etc …
Among these edifices and villas was the palace in via della Conciliazione, built at the beginning of the 16th century by Andrea Bregno, possibly based on a design by Bramante, and then donated to King Henry VIII who placed the British Embassy there.
On the estate purchased by the Colonna family in via Nomentana in 1797, Giovanni Torlonia had Villa Torlonia built, in whose park the famous Casina delle Civette was built in an eclectic medieval style.
Between the Via Appia Nuova and the Appia Antica, in 1809 he purchased a large estate which included the Roman Villa of the Quintili. This villa was composed of various buildings from the Adrianea age (around 120 AD) owned by two very rich brothers, the Quintili.
In its time it was so beautiful as to envy even the Emperor Commodus, who under a pretext had them executed and took the Villa in 185 AD.
In this area the Torlonia found many Roman statues with which they enriched their collections. The adjacent neighbourhood was in fact called Statuary to recall this story.
The Roman architect Giuseppe Valadier (1762-1839) also worked for the family, who was entrusted with the construction of Villa Torlonia in via Nomentana and the arrangement of the village of Fiumicino, which was a fief of the Torlonia as the village of Ceri.
In those years Valadier was transforming magnificently Piazza del Popolo and the slopes of the Pincio.
Marino, Giovanni’s son, married a Sforza Cesarini, then his daughter Maria Luisa married an Orsini in 1923. In 1929 Giovanni died after having contributed to the restoration of the Basilica of SS. Apostles.
His son, Prince Alessandro Raffaele Torlonia (1800-1886), married a noble from the Colonna family in 1840 and from 1855 decided to face a truly demanding undertaking: the reclamation of Fucino.
This was one of the largest lakes in Italy that for 2000 years was thought to transform into a fertile agricultural area. It took enormous work, which began when the region was part of the Kingdom of Naples and then to move on to be annexed to the Kingdom of Italy.
4,000 workers worked on it for 24 years, clearing 16,500 hectares of land with 270 km of roads, and entrusting it to 11,000 settlers. For this work the King named him Prince of Fucino.
It was very beautiful and this is what Ignazio Silone says in Fontamara:
“At the head of all is God, master of heaven. This everyone knows. Then comes Prince Torlonia, master of the earth. Then come the Prince’s guards. Then come the dogs of the Prince’s guards. Then, nothing. Then, still nothing. Then, still nothing. Then the peasants come. And it can be said that it’s over.”
Then it was the turn of Leopoldo Torlonia (1853-1918) who was mayor of Rome in 1887, after being deputy and then senator. But despite this presence, in 1903 the Palazzo Torlonia in Piazza Venezia was demolished to enlarge the square and build the Vittorio Emanuele Monument.
Another Giovanni Torlonia, nephew of the previously mentioned Giovanni and senator of the Kingdom (1873-1938), founded the Banca del Fucino in 1923 and rented the large villa on the Nomentana, with the 13 hectare park, to Cavalier Benito who lived there from 1923 to 1943 for a rent of one lira per year.
This is the same villa that in 1797 his grandfather had built by the architect Valadier.
Giovanni’s son Alessandro, the last prince of Fucino and who passed away in December 2017 at 92 years of age, lived in Villa Albani where there is an incredible museum of works of art that now, after 260 years, should finally become open to visitors.
Villa Albani was the splendid home of Cardinal Albani, with a large park in the centre of Rome, and in the mid-eighteenth century it was the cradle of Neoclassicism, with a collection of works made by Winckelmann.
Finally, we must remember that there was the Torlonia Museum in via della Lungara, from the mid-1800s to 1979, one of the largest private collections in the world with 620 Greek and Roman statues.
The Palace was suddenly and illegally transformed in 1979 into a residence of 93 mini apartments and the statues were put in the basements. A long court case is underway concerning this story.