“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree,
So twice five miles of fertile ground with walls and towers were girdled round.
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree,
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice. . . .”
The Villa Giulia is the Italian version of “Kubla Khan,” not built by “lofty rhyme,” but constructed of actual stone and marble for a pleasure-loving pontiff of the Cinque Cento. The desire to realize the poet’s vision is often felt by absolute monarchs. Versailles, San Souci, and the Hermitage show what unlimited power, wealth, and caprice have accomplished in that direction; but none of the northern sovereigns possessed either the climate, soil, historical, poetic, and pictorial setting or the artists, architects, and marvellous art treasures which were at the command of Pope Julius III.
When this pontiff, whose election dates from i55o, decided to build a pleasure-house upon the vineyard in the Via Flaminia, which he had inherited from his uncle, the elder Cardinal Monte, he bought up adjoining property from various landowners, so that his domain finally extended from the Tiber eastward up the Valle Giulia and adjoining slopes of Monte Parioli. The southern boundaries have not yet been fully determined, but those to the north extended as far as the Chapel of St. Andrea, a beautiful little building erected by Vignola to commemorate Pope Julius’s (then Cardinal Monte) deliverance from the soldiery at the time of the sack of Rome in 1527. The Via Flaminia was at that time the fashionable drive. It was lined by fine villas and palaces, and Amannati alludes to it as the “beautiful Via Flaminia.” The approach to it was from the Piazza del Popolo, then a place of gardens, through the fine Porta del Popolo which, begun so long before under Pope Sixtus IV, had just been finished by Michelangelo and Vignola. The fine avenue extended as far as the Ponte Molle, where it crossed the Tiber, and, after skirting the western slopes of Monte Soracte, began its long march to the north. A little road (called the Via del Arco Oscuro) leading up from the Tiber crossed the Via Flaminia at right angles and climbed up the Valle Giulia, turning abruptly toward the northern spur of Monte Parioli.