La Rotonda is a representation of Palladio’s ideals of the perfect villa:
In the words of Andrea Palladio, the La Rotonda site “is one of the most pleasing and delightful that one could find because it is on top of a small hill which is easy to ascend; on one side it is bathed by the Bacchiglione, a navigable river, and on the other is surrounded by other pleasant hills which resemble a vast theatre and are completely cultivated and abound with wonderful fruit and excellent vines …. it enjoys the most beautiful vistas on every side…” Palladio designed many magnificent villas and palazzi during his lifetime, but La Rotonda, short for the Villa Almerico Capra Valmarana, is the highlight of his creations. The villa attracts visits from architects, poets, artists, statesmen, royalty, scholars and tourists like us.
A symbol of Palladio’s works
Palladio had visions of designing a villa that would become the hallmark of his architectural ideals and an icon of Palladianism. When commissioned by the canon Paolo Almerico to design a villa, Palladio thought that this was the opportunity to realize his vision for a villa-temple. The canon was a man of refined culture and an intellectual. He was also a poet and a man of letters. On his retirement from the papal court, he was returning to Vicenza, his birthplace. Rather than live in the family palace, the canon wanted a quiet countryside home. This was the special person for whom Palladio felt inspired to design the one perfect and harmonious building. He pulled together all his revolutionary ideas and designed La Rotonda in 1566.
Palladio showed that it was possible to adapt Roman classical designs into all kinds of buildings. With an emphasis on symmetry, perspective, and visual clarity, he designed La Rotonda to be a villa that was pure and beautiful. The symmetrical square plan includes identical porticoes on each of its facades. Engaging views were an important feature in Palladio’s designs and the four porticoes of La Rotonda offer sheltered views of the surrounding areas. At the centre of the building a dome covers the circular hall.
According to Palladio, the building should also be easily accessible. In his original plan, guests and visitors arriving by river would be able to come up to the villa easily.
Palladio would have been pleased
Apparently the best time to visit La Rotonda is in late spring when the surrounding hills are covered with fiery-red poppies. We didn’t see the sea of red poppies. Instead, we were rewarded with the stunning sight of yellow rapeseed fields. What a magnificent sight it was, with La Rotonda sitting serenely on the hilltop. Palladio would have been pleased with this view.
The interior of La Rotonda is just as impressive. It is completely covered with trompe l’oeil frescoes depicting scenes of everyday life in the villa. The interior felt more like the inside of a temple, rather than a residence. Palladio believed that buildings should be designed to expose every room to sunlight and surrounding landscape. The large and harmonious spaces should also ensure the privacy of the owner and guests. British and American visitors will be familiar with Palladio’s design as Palladian architecture has inspired many great buildings in Britain and America, including the White House.
Palladio didn’t live long enough to see his villa completed and decorated. When Paolo Almerico died in 1589, his son inherited the villa. He in turn sold it to the Capra brothers. Vincenzo Scamozzi inherited many of Palladio’s unfinished projects and he was responsible for the completion of La Rotonda. The Capras also commissioned master sculptors and artists for the statues and frescoes of the villa. The Valmarana family of Vicenza bought the villa in 1911 and it has been in their hands since then.
Unfortunately no photography is allowed inside the villa. The attendant will ask you to put your camera in the plastic bags provided. This is to ensure that no one takes any sneak photos. Search online and you’ll see some photos like the one below. Perhaps they were taken during less restrictive times.
Getting to La Rotonda by bus
From the historical centre, we got caught bus number 8 to La Rotonda. The number 8 bus stop is on Viale Roma, just outside the city gate and the timetable is displayed at the bus stop. You can buy your ticket at a newsagent before going to the bus stop.
The bus ride to the villa takes only about ten minutes. You may want to ask the driver to tell you where to get off because it’s easy to miss the stop for La Rotonda. From the bus stop take the first road on your right – it is signposted for the villa. After a short gentle uphill walk you pass a footpath on your right pointing to the Villa Valmarana ai Nani. Continue walking a few metres and La Rotonda is on the left side of the road. At the gate house you pay Euros 10 fee to enter. A path leads you to the front of the villa. This was actually the service entrance in Palladio’s design.
Infrequent bus service
The bus service back to town is infrequent, so before making your way to the villa, it’s advisable to check the schedule for your return trip. We missed our 5 pm bus and found that the next one was at 6.19 pm. Rather than hang around for 1 hr 20 minutes, we decided to walk back to town. It was a nice walk and luckily it took less time than I had anticipated.
- The grounds are open on Tuesdays to Sundays: 10:00-12:00 and 15:00-18:00.
- The interior is only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
- The entire villa is closed from November to February. Even if the villa is closed, you can still admire it from the gate and from the road. After all, this was the way it was intended to be seen by non-residents.
Villa Almerico Capra detta «La Rotonda»
Via della Rotonda 45 (off Viale Riviera Berica)