Considered the most beautiful Renaissance-era palace in Rome, Palazzo Farnese is now the French Embassy in Italy and, while the tour time is limited, it's well worth the effort. The palace is renowned for the Galleria Carracci and its exquisitely executed ceiling which is said to rival that of the Sistine Chapel.
Construction on Palazzo Farnese began in 1514 by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger who died before finishing. Michelangelo continued in 1546 and it was completed by Giacoma della Porta. The palace belonged to the wealthy and influential Farnese family and in particular Alessandro, who became Cardinal and then later Pope Paul III in 1534. Michelangelo contributed the friezes and main window decorations, which overlook the piazza, as well as sections of the courtyard and the arch at the back. The renovated exterior with its imposing front also features geometric brickwork.
The guided tour takes in the atrium Sangallo, the internal courtyard, the garden, the Sala D'Ercole and the famous Galleria Carracci, which is home to a series of frescoes by Annibale Carracci. The beautiful vaulted ceiling in this gallery is significant as it marks the transition of two artistic styles: Classicism and Baroque. Carracci painted the ceiling, titled The Loves of the Gods, between 1597 and 1604. The aforementioned Sala d'Ercole or Hercules Room is so named for the featured replica of the ancient Roman-Greco sculpture Farnese Hercules, one of many famous sculptures that were housed here during the time of the Farnese family. Outside, the twin fountains in the Piazza Farnese are enormous granite baths taken from Terma di Carracalla (Baths of Carracalla) in the 16th century.
Guided tours in English run once a week. Bookings must be at least eight days ahead of your visit via the website (www.inventerrome.com). Each 45-minute tour accommodates a maximum of five people and no children under 10 are allowed admittance. The entry price is €5 and photo ID is essential. To visit Palazzo Farnese, buses 62, 64 and 116 will take you to the Campo de’ Fiori stop and then it’s a three-minute walk to the palace.