The magnificent “Villa” is located just behind Trinità dei Monti, not far from Via Veneto and Piazza Barberini, right at the foothills of Colle del Pincio, in a beautiful and healthy area particularly appreciated in Ancient Roman times. It was called “Collis hortulorum” or “gardens’ hill” and was very much loved by Lucullus. The area underwent a whole series of extensions and developments with buildings built around a central tower (that can still be seen). It changed ownership several times.
The original structure is associated with the history of the “Minimi” Monastery founded at Trinità dei Monti by San Francesco di Paola in the 15th century. In the 17th century, the Friars bought the developed section and leased it to illustrious personalities, amongst whom are several Cardinals, who made changes and enhancements to what gradually became an increasingly prestigious “Villa” in a splendid location. Famous personalities in the 18th century included, Marie Casimir Queen of Poland, the widow of King John Sobieski, world renowned for having liberated Vienna from the Turks. The Queen lived in a Palace on the current Via Sistina and reached the garden of the Villa by crossing a wooden bridge called the “Queen’s Arch”.
However, it’s the German artists and men of culture who were guests and visitors that created a special bond with the history of our Villa. Most of them, like the great archaeologist Winckelmann, had been living in this area of Rome since mid 17th century. In the last decades of 18th century the famous Swiss painter Angelika Kaufmann, a very popular portraitist in Rome, used to paint in the gardens of the Villa. This attracted, for sentimental reasons, one of the most famous frequent visitors of the Villa: Johann Wolfgang Goethe, fond of Rome, but also a very good friend of Madame Kaufmann. Over the years, the Villa hosted many other prestigious guests: the poet Friederike Brun, Wilhelm von Humboldt – Prussian ambassador and his circle; and the group of painters named the “Nazarenes”. After a decade in which the Villa was the centre of Swedish culture, in 1827 it was bought by the Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, who wanted to turn it into his residence. He will remain in the history of the Villa Malta as the personality most linked to it both ideally and sentimentally. In fact, he stayed there every time he came to Rome and when he was King it became a true hub of German culture in Rome. Even the Pope came several times to Villa Malta so see the King. After abdicating in 1848, Ludwig came back to Rome for the last time between 1866 and 1867 before dying in Nice in 1868.
In 1873 the Villa was bought by the Russian Count Leo Bobrinski, descendant of Catherine II Czarina of Russia. He radically transformed the Villa, extending and refurbishing it with precious marbles, new richly decorated ceilings, glamorous paintings and masterpieces such as the magnificent, 50m- long 17th century Venetian frieze (Curci Hall) that portrays the contest between Apollo and Marsyas.
During this period even the gardens were exquisitely tended and the Villa was known as “Villa of Roses”. In 1907 the heirs of Count Bobrinski, after suffering economic difficulties in Russia, decided to sell the Villa that was once again bought by a German family. Prince Bernhard von Bülow, former Reich Chancellor, married to an Italian, Lady Laura Minghetti, bought it. During this period the Villa was once again enriched and finely decorated by its owners, who loved it very much and took great care of it till the very end of their life (they both died in 1929). In the following years, a Service Company organizing parties, balls and conventions ran the Villa.
In 1950, the Villa was finally bought by the Jesuits to host “Civiltà Cattolica” the oldest Italian magazine that at that time was headquartered in a building on Via di Ripetta, not far from Piazza del Popolo. The building was old and not suitable to host the Jesuit fathers’ community and the extensive library, their main asset. Thus they sought a new location. Villa Malta seemed to be the ideal solution despite the substantial restoration required. The famous and expert architect Prediliano Beni was in charge of the work. The old building was barely changed while a new wing was built in the gardens to host the library and rooms for the priests. The lobby was renovated. The works started in 1950 and in March 1953 the priests had already moved in. Since then, not much has been changed.