As a disclaimer: These photos were taken during a visit in April 2016, so this post may not be representative of this site today.
A 17th century palazzo designed by Gianlorenzo Bernini, Carlo Maderno, and Francesco Borromini, the building today is one of two sites of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica (the other being the Palazzo Corsini), which is the main national collection of older paintings in Rome.
It is located on a sloping site which, prior to the construction of the palazzo, had been held by the Sforza family and which had been used as a garden and vineyard. Cardinal Alessandro Sforza saw himself sforced (sorry, had to) sell the property during a bout of financial hardship, and it passed into the ownership of Maffeo Barberini, who eventually became Pope Urban VIII.
(I mentioned the story of Judith in a previous post, in case you need a refresher).
The building also houses the Italian Institute of Numismatics (coins), and was the site of the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950.
Villa Borghese Gardens
I am here to tell you a sad story. While the gardens at the Villa Borghese are gorgeous and absolutely worth the visit just for such a scenic stroll, this was not the purpose of my visit. The purpose of my visit was to go inside the Galleria Borghese, which is housed in the Villa, but I… forgot to buy tickets. Cue sad trumpet.
I hadn’t realized that tickets for this little museum sell out weeks in advance, and that it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to go in without purchasing them ahead of time. So learn from my mistake – buy tickets for this before you even reach the city, otherwise you may well have to leave without seeing the gorgeousness that is Bernini and that is housed in this gallery (which is not to say there aren’t Bernini sculptures elsewhere in Rome, but you know).
This stairway’s real name is Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti, or stairway of the church there at the top, but the square it leads down to is called the Piazza di Spagna, which holds the Embassy of Spain to the Holy See (note, not to Italy — that one is located in a different building), thus granting the stairs their nickname. While I caught the stairs at a bad time (as you can see, they were being renovated and are mostly closed and covered with scaffolding), one could still go up to the square in front of the church and get some nice views from the top.
Temple of Hercules Victor
This temple, dedicated to Hercules the Victorious, is believed to have been erected in the 2nd century BCE by order of Lucius Mummius Achaicus. If you happen not to know who Mummius was, suffice it to say that the Ancient Greek city of Corinth is known for how few ruins there are in its bounds, and this is due to the fact that it was utterly destroyed by the Romans in 146 BCE. Lucius Mummius Achaicus gave the order for the Romans to burn it all, kill all the men, and enslave all the women and children inside the ancient city. Just a lovely bit of history for you today.
The temple was mistakenly believed to be dedicated to Vesta for the longest time due to its architectural design, but this identification was corrected by Camille de Tournon, Prefect of Rome to Napoleon, in the 19th century. The nearby Mouth of Truth is believed to have been originally part of this building, only to be moved later to the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, where it is held today.