Residenza Napoleone III is located inside Palazzo Ruspoli
one of the most beautiful historical Palace in Rome
The main feature of the Ruspoli Palace was its great staircase.
Each of its four flights was made up of thirty monolithic marble steps that rose from the portico on the side facing Largo Goldoni.
It was popularly considered one of the “four marvels” of Rome, along with the Borghese Cembalo,
the Farnese Dado, and the portal of the Sciarra Colonna.
It was built in 1640 by the Caetani family, the third owners of the building which at that time already had its own history.
The original structure dates back to 1556 when Francesco Iacobilli had it built on the area at the corner of Via del Corso,
Via della Fontanella Borghese, Via del Leoncino and Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina.
The architect was probably Nanni di Baccio Bigio.
Construction proceeded slowly while the Iacobilli were living there, alternating
with their residence in Foligno where the family had numerous interests.
Francesco, moreover, was the treasurer of Umbria, a hydraulic engineer who reclaimed
the swamps in the valley of Foligno, and was also caporione, the local leader of Campo Marzio.
This did not give him much time to enjoy his Roman Palazzo.
Apart from being away for these professional engagements, he also suffered the death of his son Bernardino,
who was buried in San Lorenzo in Lucina.
When Francesco Iacobilli died in 1575, he left his heirs free to sell the Roman property, which was unfinished even
if its extension was already clearly laid out and the part surrounding the courtyard was complete.
The Rucellai Family
The Palazzo was bought eight years later, in 1583, by Orazio Rucellai, a member of the noble Florentine family
that had made Rome the center of its financial policies in the train of Cardinal Piero Rucellai,
thanks to the two Medici popes, Leo X and Clement VII.
The Rucellai family already owned another building on Via del Corso, opposite this one, on the corner
of present-day Largo Goldoni, and so were able to create their own private block.
Orazio naturally had his architect friend Bartolomeo Ammannati
finish the work on the new Palazzo, which he did in 1586, defining the edifice with a long facade on the Corso
and enclosing two courtyards within, but without adding a concluding element to the rear facade.
Ammannati also changed the internal configuration of the rooms, making them larger, and found space on the piano nobile for a long gallery.
It was there that Jacopo Zucchi, between 1589 and 1592, added the brilliant new decorations depicting pagan gods and kings of acient Rome
that would become the backdrop for many banquets and diplomatic meetings.
When Orazio Rucellai lived in this building with his wife and children, he was engaged in the social life that his rank as diplomat required.
Having served as the plenipotentiary minister for Ferdinando I, grand duke of Tuscany,
he was given sensitive assignments in Rome, including the delicate negotiations for the transfer
of Palazzo Madama from Catherine de’ Medici to the grand duke.
Later he took on the difficult position of intermediary between Clement VIII and the king of France, Henri IV,
regarding the abjuration of the king in favor of Catholicism in 1593.
In fact, it was precisely diplomatic interests vis-a-vis France that helped determine the appearance of the Palazzo.
When Orazio Rucellai died and the house passed to his sons, Luigi, in the service
of Marie de’ Medici, and Ferdinando, the building’s links to France were strengthened.
The Residence and the Social Obligation
The enormous residence was excessive for the two unmarried brothers,
and offering hospitality became a social obligation.
In 1605 Cardinal Jacques Davy du Perron lived there, and between 1605 and 1609 a great part of the mansion
became the headquarters of the French representative to the court of Rome.
Ambassador Charles de Neuville d’Halincourt, marquis of Villeroy,
and his successors de Brèves and the duke of Nevers also lived there.
In 1611 Cardinal Francois de Joyeuse lived there as "protector" of France.
The last illustrious person to be given hospitality by the Rucellai was Cardinal Gaspare Borgia,
the Spanish ambassador, who had a retinue of ninety-two people, as well as eight priests.
He lived there from 1618, and his presence gave the building a religious tone that overshadowed its diplomatic one.
During this time Cardinal Borgia was intensively engaged in assisting the poor of the city.
The Caetani Family
Since the Palazzo was too big for the needs of the Rucellai, they did not fully enjoy its beauty and in 1627,
two years after his brother Luigi’s death, Ferdinando Rucellai sold the great mansion to the Caetani of Sermoneta for 51,500 florins.
This old family, which boasted prelates, men of arms, and diplomats among its members,
had some economic problems but was effectively forced to buy the palazzo.
The lower floors of their homes on the Tiber island and at Tor di Nona were continually subjected
to flooding because of the overflowing river and had become uninhabitable.
Thus the house on the island was rented out and the other sold to pay the first installment
on the new property in 1629, when the Rucellai allowed the Caetani family to enter.
The castle on the island was also sold in order to finish paying for the Palazzo in 1634, when the final papers were signed.
Despite their continuing financial problems, the Caetani family maintained a high standard of living and wanted the palazzo to reflect their dignity.
They enlarged it to place their personal stamp on it.
The family’s financial stability was finally restored and the commitment to restructure the building renewed,
thanks to Cardinal Luigi Caetani, the first to live there with the thirteen people in his service,
followed by the brothers Onorio V and Francesco IV with all their families and servants, a total of more than one hundred people.
Under the direction of architect Bartolommeo Breccioli, the Palazzo was finished between 1633 and 1637 with the addition
of a new facade on Via della Fontanella Borghese, a majestic cornice, and an elegant covered roof-terrace.
In 1640 Martino Longhi the Younger designed and built the marvelous grand staircase, which became
the Caetani family’s mark on the building and a legend in urban architecture.
The interior was arranged more rationally into apartments, concentrating more on enlarging the spaces inside than on decorating them.
All decoration was focused on the magnificence of the famous stairway that led to the apartments.
Nevertheless, the new rooms were richly furnished and included tapestries sent from the family mansions in Naples and Caserta.
Despite all the work they did to renovate this Palazzo, the Caetani family preferred to live in Sermoneta
and ended up considering this Roman home more as an official residence.
Their occasional presence did nothing to raise the tone of the building, therefore, and during the eighty' years that they owned it,
it was lived in by the less"noble" members of the family.
Filippo II (1620-1687) killed Count Beroaldo and his servant, so that he was forced to live in exile.
Ruggero III (1632-1706) was a libertine who mostly found space for his adventures outside pontifical Rome.
Gaetano Francesco (1656-1716) was involve in a plot against Filippo V of Naples.
His property in Caserta and Sermoneta was confiscated, and he ended up living in Vienna.
The Ruspoli Family
In 1713 the nobility of the Palazzo was again enhanced when it was rented by the Ruspoli family,
who were of Florentine origin but had been in Rome since the fourteenth century.
They were the marquises of Cerveteri, and, from 1709, princes, starting with Francesco Maria (1672-1731).
The Ruspoli were financially secure when they bought the property, concluding the sale in 1776
and starting improvements on it immediately thereafter.
It was with the Ruspoli family that the most refined and triumphant period of its history would take place.
In 1715 the apartment on the ground floor was decorated by a host of painters under the direction of Domenico Paradisi.
This decoration, however, was executed too quickly and ten years later already needed to be restored.
For this, excellent Mannerist painters were called in, such as Giovanni Reder and Paolo Anesi.
In 1727 the painted decoration was completed on the second floor by Michelangelo Cerruti, with a series of hangings that were
“finti e fatti a guazzo” (false and made of gouache) to accompany Rubens’s precious tapestries.
The architectonic arrangement was completed, transforming the loggia overlooking the garden into a gallery
and unifying the ground-floor apartment, setting up a direct sequence of rooms.
All these works were supervised by the architect Giovan Battista Contini.
Francesco Maria Ruspoli intended to turn his mansion into a palace for parties, literary meetings,
and musical performances that would truly bring it to life and enhance the magnificence of the family.
The Ruspoli, politically involved in diplomatic support for the pope’s policy on the War of the Spanish Succession,
made their home a reference point in the mediation of relations between France and Spain,
also making use of the culture of patronage, along the lines of the Accademia dell’Arcadia.
This policy bore fruit with the sons of Francesco Maria. Bartolommeo rose rapidly through the ecclesiastical hierarchy,
from apostolic protonotary to secretary of the Propaganda Fide and cardinal, and was on a number of commissions in the Curia.
He also became a knight of the Order of Malta and then grand prior, which brought considerable prebends.
His brother Alessandro develoned the family’s inclination to patronage, increasing the number of performances and parties in the house.
These took place in the ten rooms of the mezzanine floor, which were embellished with ephemeral decorations painted in various
ways up to the gallery, where the orchestra gave concerts, and up to the garden amid real and artificial fountains and greenery.
One Party held there became Legendary
It was given on 17 March 1769 in honor of Joseph II and his brother Peter Leopold of Austria, Grand Duke of Tuscany,
followed on March 27 by the great spectacle of the carnival with the “race of the barbarians,” watched by guests from a platform
built outside the palazzo for this purpose, with an orchestra playing on either side.
Another memorable party was that of 10 July 1775 in honor of Archduke Maximilian of Hapsburg.
This event was also enlivened by a similar race, especially organized in honor of the guest, since it was not carnival at the time.
It was watched from a new loggia with gold carvings.
It was in this same period that the building was extended along Via della Fontanella Borghese and Via del Leoncino,
as designed by the architect Giuseppe Barberi, the gifted scenographer of the festivities in the Ruspoli house.
In 1782 the piano nobile was finally decorated with an allegory of the fine arts and mythological themes, which reflected a glorification
of the Ruspoli family in its symbolic references to the military valor and diplomatic qualities of Prince Francesco, ambassador to Naples and Venice.
The Palazzo was distinguished, moreover, by a Singular Feature
It was built on a platform eighty centimeters high that extended for the whole length of the facade along Via del Corso.
This scalinone (large step) was part of the construction but became a sort of observatory onto the street, useful for watching
passersby and, in turn, for being gazed at and admired while sitting there.
The Ruspoli made this parquet available to nobles and members of the middle classes, and at carnival they also offered chairs to their guests,
thus increasing the prestige of their mansion, which more than ever became a reference point along Via del Corso.
“It is here”, wrote Goethe in his Italian Journey, during the carnival of 1788
“that high society takes its place, and all the seats are either taken or reserved".
The most Beautiful Ladies of the middle classes
allow themselves to be gazed at avidly by the passersby
Everyone who happens to pass stops to contemplate that seductive parquet.
Everyone is curious to guess who the women are among the numerous figures of men that seem to be there and to discover,
perhaps in the uniform of an elegant officer, the object of their desires.
With the coming of the Jacobin Republic and the subsequent Napoleonic imperial rule,
the Palazzo fell into the same critical situation as the Roman aristocracy.
In particular, the Ruspoli family suffered from the extortionate bank interest rates and taxes,
as well as from the cost of maintaining the French generals billeted in their house.
The situation did not improve when pontifical power was restored.
The Ruspoli lost their feudal rights over the territories of Cerveteri, Vignanello, and Riano, with all their economic benefits.
They intensified their international diplomatic connections,
particularly with the court of Vienna, and expanded their cultural interests.
Prince Alessandro Ruspoli, the king’s chamberlain, took it upon himself to pursue this policy.
The Palazzo resumed its former role of receiving ambassadors and important people.
The Caffe Nuovo, the Bank and the Apartments
As early as 1812 the prince rented the ground-floor apartment and the garden to a Roman cafe proprietor, Antonio Bagnoli.
The legendary rooms of the eighteenth-century balls became a public coffeehouse called Caffe Nuovo,
which would remain open until 1870, when this part of the palazzo would be taken over by a bank.
Napoleone Bonaparte and others Illustrous Guests
Also starting in 1812, the Palazzo has hosted a series of important figures
from the history of Europe, first the family of Napoleon’s imperial procurator.
Giuseppe Lopodinec, two years later to the Neapolitan Prince Carlo Doria, in 1820 to the the Milanese Count Giuseppe Cambarano,
chamberlain to the emperor of Austria, and finally to Ortensia Beauhamais.
Daughter of Empress Josephine, she was the former queen of Holland, separated from her husband Count Louis Bonaparte.
She lived in the palazzo from 1827 to 1828 and between 1830 and 1831.
The Palazzo increased its prestige thanks to her and her social gatherings and literary salons,
parties, and concerts, behind the scenes of which were hidden political intrigues for the future of her sons, Napoleon Louis and Louis Napoleon.
The latter became the Emperor Napoleon III.
Historical figures of the Ruspoli Family
Prince Emanuele (1838-1899), participated in the second war of independence
and was in the provisional government when the temporal power of the pope finally ended.
He sat in the right wing of Parliament in various legislatures and was mayor of Rome several times, from 1878 to 1880 and from 1892 to 1899.
His son Eugenio (1866-1893) had the soul of an adventurer and went to Somalia to explore Ogaden.
He collected zoological and botanical speciments there and contributed to the confirmation
of the Italian protectorate in the region of Burgi; he was killed by an elephant.
His nephew Carlo (1892-1942) followed in his footsteps and explored Ethiopia. He died fighting in Egypt.
Prince Alessandro (1869-1952), the seventh prince of Cerveteri, a scholar and enthusiastic
follower of the Futurists, grand master of the Sacred Hospice under Pius XI and Pius XII, lost an eye
in a hunting party and wore a black eye patch, which distinguished him from then on.