Palazzo Colonna: A Hidden Palace in the Heart of Rome

Although I have spent years exploring Rome, I am often surprised by little things I have never noticed. A spider decoration above a door or a hidden flood marker on the side of a building can fill me with glee. “Ahhhh, how many others have noticed that?” I muse.

But on a recent tour with Context Travel I found that there are still several very big things in this city that I have overlooked, places that have been hiding in plain sight that I just hadn’t bothered to check out.

Context Travel invited me as a guest on their exclusive tour of Palazzo Colonna.

I had long heard that Palazzo Colonna, one of the house museums of Rome, was worth the visit. But given that the museum is only open on Saturday mornings (or “by appointment” – two words that intrigue me but usually stop me from taking action ), fitting a visit into my busy schedule was never easy. Luckily, a private tour on a Tuesday with a Context Travel guide and a group of about six other curious travelers solved that issue.

One of the reasons I was interested in visiting Palazzo Colonna was because I had assumed (incorrectly) that the palace was the site of a poignant scene from one of my favorite films, La Grande Bellezza.

There is a scene in the film where an aging princess returns home to the palace in which she grew up and visits the part of it which has been turned into a museum. She puts a coin in the slot next to the exhibit of her childhood bedroom and listens to the story of her young life told by an animatronic voice.

The above-mentioned scene from La Grande Bellezza was not shot in Palazzo Colonna. But I couldn’t help but think how this sad moment of reckoning must have resonated with the Colonna family, who still reside here after eight centuries of having continually inhabited this palace. In fact, the portion of the residence that we toured is primarily used for tours and events while the current family lives in a small, but presumably ample and luxurious, section of the estate.

A famous scene that was filmed in Palazzo Colonna was the final scene of classic film Roman Holiday.

Art in Palazzo Colonna

Another reason I wanted to visit the palace was because of its vast art collection.

There are Pinturicchio frescoes on the ceiling and works from Jan Brueghel the Elder, Bronzino, Guercino, Guido Reni, Peter Paul Rubens, Tintoretto, and Paolo Veronese. Gaspard Dughet, painter of large and vibrant landscape murals, has a room named after him in the Colonna apartments.

Meanwhile, the Colonna family collected nearly 40 small-scale landscape paintings of Rome and its countryside by Gaspar van Wittel. Seen all together, the Dutch painter’s works present a curious time capsule of Rome, a time before the Spanish Steps or the Via Ripetta river banks were constructed.

Annibale Carracci’s “The Bean Eater” is a highlight of Palazzo Colonna’s art collection

The most famous painting of the Colonna collection is Annibale Carracci’s The Bean Eater (Il Mangiafagioli). It is hard to overstate how out of place the painting of such a humble subject seems inside a gilded palace. Also difficult to explain is how this genre painting moved me more than all the other gold encrusted pomp.

Art historian Donald Posner said of the painting that “the composition has a “snapshot” effect which was utterly unprecedented in Western art.” The Bean Eater was thoroughly modern for its time, perhaps one of the first examples of the gentry looking to the common man as a source of artistic inspiration.

I wish I could have had more time to stand in Galleria Colonna and gaze at Carracci’s creation.

Inside Palazzo Colonna in Rome

Palazzo Colonna: Rome’s History Through One Family’s Eyes

Beyond the grand hall and the art collection, Piazza Colonna offers the visitor a chance to understand the history of Rome and Italy on a micro level through the lives of one very noble family.

The Colonna symbol, a single column topped with a crown, is visible in every room of the palace, from the marble floors and tapestries to the wrought iron patio chairs and radiator covers, turning a tour into a sort of scavenger hunt.

And of course, there is pleasure in visiting a grand palace that is mere steps away from the busiest Roman streets. The Palazzo Colonna is a quiet refuge in the heart of the center and well worth the detour, especially accompanied by an expert guide.


I was a guest of Context Travel for their Rome walk The Princess and the Palace. Click here to learn more about Rome tours from Context.

This post was last modified on 13 April 2019 3:11 pm

Melanie Renzulli @italofileblog

View Comments

Recent Posts

NASA History in Rome: The Birthplace of Michael Collins

Visiting Rome is always a history lesson. But many people -- even Romans -- don't know that Rome played a…

20 July 2019 9:00 am

7 Fountains in Rome That You Definitely Should Not Cool Off In

Rome's grand, historic fountains look awfully inviting after a hot day of sightseeing. But you absolutely, positively should not try…

18 July 2019 10:16 am

Leonardo da Vinci: Where to See His Works in Italy

Leonardo da Vinci, the original Renaissance Man, was born in Italy more than 500 years ago. Yet despite being one…

11 June 2019 7:56 am

Luxe Stays in Italy: Three New Choices for 2019

Two hotels in Rome and one in the countryside of Emilia-Romagna are some of the most-talked about new luxury properties…

23 May 2019 8:56 pm

Sightseeing in Milan: 3 Places to Go Beyond the Duomo

The Duomo is magnificent. But do you know what else to do in Milan? Here are three ideas for first…

3 May 2019 1:13 am

Rome Wasn’t Built In a Day. So How Long Did It Take?

Rome has been written about so many times that we've all seen variations on the cliché phrase "Rome wasn't built…

11 April 2019 1:24 pm

Italofile uses cookies to personalize content and ads as well as to analyze traffic.

Learn More