The Barberini, originally from Barberino Val d’Elsa in Tuscany, were an influential Italian princely and papal family who played an important role in the artistic transformation of Rome and nearby towns. They were promoters of culture and great patrons of the arts, surrounded by famous artists like Bernini, Borromini, Pietro da Cortona.
The peak of their power was reached in 1623 with the rise to the papal throne of Maffeo Barberini, Pope Urban VIII, which facilitated the career of many members of his family, naming, among others his nephew Taddeo Borromini as Prince of Palestrina. It is in this period that the Barberini family began to have considerable importance within the community of Palestrina.
In the early 1100s Palestrina had become a fief of the powerful Colonna family to which it remained linked until the seventeenth century when the city passed to the Barberini. The link between Barberini and Palestrina was interrupted only by the second world war.
But the most intriguing story is that of Palazzo Colonna Barberini with very strange curvilinear shapes because it was built on the upper part of the Temple of Fortuna Primigena , which dates back to the 2nd century BC. In fact, the construction of the palace was started by the Colonna family around the middle of the XI century, reusing the upper structures of the Sanctuary that ended with a theatre and a portico supported by elegant columns.
In 1298, the first palace was destroyed together with the city after the siege of Pope Boniface VIII when in conflict with the Colonna who had opposed his election. Boniface VIII was the powerful pope who went down in history for the slap of Anagni.
Later the palace was rebuilt together with the city, only to be destroyed again in 1437 by Cardinal Vitelleschi by order of Pope Eugene IV. After obtaining permission from his successor, Pope Nicholas V, the palace was rebuilt by Francesco Colonna, to whom we owe the well in front of the façade and the closure of the colonnade that surmounted the ancient theatre.
In 1630 the palace and the city of Palestrina were ceded by the Colonna to Carlo Barberini, brother of Pope Urban VIII. Taddeo Barberini, son of Carlo, modified the building to its present form and Cardinal Francesco wanted to place there the well-known Mosaic of the Nile in 1640.
The building is totally inside the ancient Roman structure and, perhaps, precisely this use of the previous forms of the temple, has allowed us to understand the original architecture. In its façade the columns of the portico are recognized and the access stairway has the forms of the Roman theatre.
Everywhere Roman, Baroque and modernity of the National Museum’s structures blend gracefully, leaving the visitor the pleasure of discovering the details that occasionally emerge here and there.
After the destruction of the Second World War, which allowed everyone discover the Roman temple that had been totally hidden from the houses and whose shape and magnificence had been lost, the palace was bought by the State in 1956 and today houses the National Archaeological Museum Prenestino.