With its fountain and clusters of palm trees, the grand courtyard of Palazzo Venezia is a veritable oasis of peace and tranquillity in the heart of Rome.
The fountain (1730) of Venezia Sposa il Mare (Venice Marries the Sea) is the work of Carlo Monaldi. Venice takes the form of a young woman, who holds, betwixt thumb and forefinger, the ring with which she will wed the sea. The winged lion of St Mark, the symbol of La Serenissima, crouches obediently at her feet.
Palazzo Venezia was built in 1455, when the Venetian cardinal, Pietro Barbo, was named titular cardinal of the neighbouring Basilica di San Marco. Nine years later Barbo became Pope Paul II (r. 1464-71) and the palace was substantially enlarged.
The courtyard was intended to have a double-storey stone colonnade, but the finances dried up shortly after it was begun and only ten arches were ever built!
Palazzo di San Marco, as it was first called, was used as a papal summer residence until 1564, when Pope Pius IV (r. 1559-1565) gave it to the Republic of Venice, which established its embassy here. From 1797 until 1915 it was the seat of the Austrian ambassador to the Vatican before being acquired by the Italian state.
During the Fascist regime (1922-43) it was occupied by Mussolini, who made the grand Sala del Mappamondo into his office and used the balcony overlooking Piazza Venezia to deliver many of his most notable speeches.
Palazzo Venezia now houses the Museo Nazionale del Palazzo di Venezia.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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