The Casina delle Civette (The House of the Owls) is the result of a series of transformations and additions carried out on the 19th century Swiss Hut, the prince's place of escape, located on the margins of Villa Torlonia's park and hidden by an artificial hillock.
Built by landscape architect Giuseppe Jappelli in 1840, commissioned by Prince Alessandro Torlonia, the original Capanna Svizzera was similar to an alpine hut, with an exterior of tuff ashlars and an interior painted in tempera imitating rocks and wooden boards.
As early as 1908, the building began to undergo a progressive and radical transformation by architect Enrico Gennari, at the behest of Giovanni Torlonia jr., Alessandro's grandson. The structure became a refined residence with porticoes, turrets, large windows, loggias, majolica decorations and splendid stained glass windows, taking on the appearance and name of 'Medieval Village'.
It was in 1916 that the building was named "Villino delle Civette" (Little House of the Owls): as early as 1914, two stylised owls among ivy shoots were represented in the stained glass window by Duilio Cambellotti, and the theme of the nocturnal bird of prey recurs constantly, almost obsessively, in the decorations and furniture, at the behest of Prince Giovanni, a surly man who loved esoteric symbols.
In 1917, architect Vincenzo Fasolo added the structures on the south front of the Casina, enriching it with imaginative architectural decorations in Art Nouveau style, such as the brightly coloured enamelled tiles or the vaulted portico on the south side of the building. The unifying element of the many architectural solutions is the grey shade of the roofing finish, for which slate was used in thin slabs, variously shaped, contrasting with the bright colours of the enamelled terracotta tiles.
Prince Giovanni jr Torlonia commissioned the addition of wrought iron, majolica, stucco and, on the windows, the famous stained glass windows with naturalistic and faunal decorations, such as birds, butterflies and, of course, owls. Made of precious lead-bonded polychrome glass, the stained-glass windows are certainly the building's distinctive feature: all installed between 1908 and 1930, they are a "unicum" on the international art scene and were produced by Cesare Picchiarini's studio, to designs by Duilio Cambellotti, Umberto Bottazzi, Vittorio Grassi and Paolo Paschetto
On two levels, the interior spaces are all extremely well finished: pictorial decorations, stucco work, mosaics, polychrome majolica, inlaid wood, wrought iron, wall textiles and marble sculptures show the prince's particular attention to living comfort.
The Casina delle Civette was the residence of Prince Giovanni Torlonia jr. until his death in 1938. The destruction of the building began in 1944, with the occupation by Anglo-American troops, which lasted over three years, followed by the fire of 1991, theft and vandalism.
The Municipality of Rome acquired the Villa in 1978, and after painstaking and lengthy restoration work, the fairytale little villa was returned to the city and today houses a museum dedicated to stained glass.
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