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  • Writer's pictureWill von Behr, MA

A Brief History of the Palazzo Colonna in Rome

What is the Palazzo Colonna?

The Palazzo Colonna, or Colonna Palace in English, is the Largest private palace in all of Rome with a spectacular collection of paintings in a sumptuous Baroque style gallery.

Palazzo Colonna Gallery ceiling fresco

Sailko, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Palazzo Colonna History

From the 13th century onwards, Italy was home to a handful of noble families – including the Farnese, Borghese and Orsini – who gained power and influence by assuming senior roles within the church, and accumulated vast swathes of land and property that still bear their names.

One of the most powerful of these families was the Colonna, whose history dates back more than 900 years. Within their baronial dynasty you’ll find a pope, an adviser to the great Michelangelo, a patron of Caravaggio, and countless others who held the city’s most senior political and ecclesiastical roles.

Spanning an entire city block, this magnificent palace has been home to the Colonna family since the 13th century. Building works and renovations continued for over five centuries and for that reason the palace contains a unique merging of various architectural styles. At the centre of the main courtyard proudly stands the timeless symbol of the palace, a column with the words ‘Semper Immota’ carved into its pedestal, meaning ‘Always Unmoved’, a discreet but earnest reminder to all its guests that the Colonna family and their palace remain steadfastly at the centre of Roman life.

The spectacular Galleria Colonna was commissioned in the mid-17th century by Cardinal Girolamo and his nephew Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna, and was built as a lavish celebration of the family’s role in a famous military victory, The Battle of Lepanto in 1571. An impressive 76 metres in length, the room is filled with opulent sculpture; the attention to detail of its gilded decoration is truly striking. When you get to the centre of the Great Hall, look up at the ceiling and you’ll see a beautifully vibrant depiction of the commemorated battle, with Marcantonio Colonna, the victorious general, standing proudly in full armour.

Whilst you enjoy the sumptuous decoration, make sure you don't miss Il Mangiafagioli by Annibale Carracci, considered one of the most famous paintings of the entire collection, and which, somewhat ironically, depicts a humble working-class peasant eating a very ordinary meal of beans.

Aside from the gallery, visitors can explore both the pleasant palace garden and Princess Isabella Colonna's apartment, preserved in the state that it was when she lived there and where she entertained countless statesmen and royalty, including Queen Elizabeth II.

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