Priority Project

Farnese Aviaries

Rome, Italy

2014 World Monuments Watch

The Farnese Aviaries are located on the Palatine Hill, once the heart of ancient Rome. Creation of the Farnese gardens began in the sixteenth century, when leading Roman families controlled the land on the Palatine. The garden complex included a variety of structures connected with terraces, stairs, and ramps leading to the top of the Palatine Hill from the Roman Forum. The aviaries are twin square pavilions, arranged at an angle to each other, and originally decorated using sgraffito, a technique employing different layers of plaster. The garden complex was described in countless travelers' accounts, and was depicted in numerous engravings, drawings, sketches, prints, and paintings between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Farnese Aviaries represent the best-preserved Renaissance remains on the Palatine Hill, and are one of the few spaces suitable for public interpretation and programming relating to this period of the hill’s history.

Layers of History Clarified and Restored

The gardens were created on top of rich archaeological remains, including the first-century Palace of Tiberius, and lost much of their form with archaeological excavations starting in the late nineteenth century. The gardens were restored and the original curving metalwork roofs of the pavilions were replaced in the nineteenth century with timber and terracotta tiles, but the aviaries stayed untouched for more than half a century. Due to prolonged lack of maintenance, the architectural surfaces were in a highly deteriorated condition. The aviaries were listed on the 2014 World Monuments Watch, spurring restoration work to combat the advanced state of decay. Historical research and in-depth conditions surveys on the aviaries were completed in early 2014, allowing the conservation team to generate a work plan. External remediation work, restoration of one of the stairways leading up from the plaza, and an updated water dispersal system were early priorities.

Following inclusion on the Watch, the site received support from the Selz Foundation, Friends of Heritage Preservation, the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage, and American Express. The funds have supported an ongoing, comprehensive treatment of the entire structure by the Soprintendenza Speciale Archeologica di Roma, including assessment and restoration of the front façade, the restoration of the interiors, and the restoration of the fountain, known as Teatro Delle Fontane. WMF also supported a press conference and Watch Day in May 2016. A community engagement event, Watch Day featured a series of site visits and workshops, where local students learned about the vegetation in the surrounding gardens and the new phases of conservation work that would begin in the summer. The project is scheduled for completion in summer 2018.

As part of a larger complex built by the Farnese family, the aviaries are being restored in tandem with other nearby, relevant sites. Taken as a whole, the restoration project has the potential to enhance the visitor experience and public understanding of this complex archaeological site, revealing a fuller and more comprehensive history of this important part of Rome.

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