For other uses, see Villa (disambiguation)
A villa was originally an upper-class country house, though since its origins in Roman times the idea and function of a villa has evolved considerably. After the fall of the Republic, a villa became a small, fortified farming compound, gradually re-evolving through the Middle Ages into luxurious, upper-class country homes. In modern parlance it can refer to a specific type of detached suburban dwelling.
In post-Roman times a villa referred to a self-sufficient, usually fortified Italian or Gallo-Roman farmstead. It was economically as self-sufficient as a village and its inhabitants, who might be legally tied to it as serfs were villeins. The Merovingian Franks inherited the concept, but the later French term was basti or bastide.
Villa (or its cognates) is part of many Spanish placenames, like Vila Real and Villadiego: a villa is a town with a charter (fuero) of lesser importance than a ciudad ("city"). When it is associated with a personal name, villa was probably used in the original sense of a country estate rather than a chartered town. Later evolution has made the Hispanic distinction between villas and ciudades a purely honorific one. Madrid is the Villa y Corte, the villa considered to be separate from the formerly mobile royal court, but the much smaller Ciudad Real was declared ciudad by the Spanish crown.
In 14th and 15th century Italy, a 'villa' once more connoted a country house, sometimes the family seat of power like Villa Caprarola, more often designed for seasonal pleasure, usually located within easy distance of a city. The first examples of Renaissance villa dates back to the age of Lorenzo de' Medici, and they are mostly located in the Italian region of Tuscany (the "Medici villas") such as the Villa di Poggio a Caiano by Giuliano da Sangallo (begun in 1470) or the Villa Medici in Fiesole (since 1450), probably the first villa created under the instructions of Leon Battista Alberti, who theorized in his De re aedificatoria the features of the new idea of villa. The gardens are from that period considered as a fundamental link between the residential building and the country outside. From Tuscany the idea of villa was spread again through Italy and Europe.
Rome had more than its share of villas with easy reach of the small sixteenth-century city: the progenitor, the first villa suburbana built since Antiquity, was the Belvedere or palazzetto, designed by Antonio Pollaiuolo and built on the slope above the Vatican Palace. The Villa Madama, the design of which, attributed to Raphael and carried out by Giulio Romano in 1520, was one of the most influential private houses ever built; elements derived from Villa Madama appeared in villas through the 19th century. Villa Albani was built near the Porta Salaria. Other are the Villa Borghese; the Villa Doria Pamphili (1650); the Villa Giulia of Pope Julius III (1550), designed by Vignola.
However, many among the most beautiful Roman villas, like Villa Ludovisi and Villa Montalto, were destroyed during the late nineteenth century in the wake of the real estate bubble that took place in Rome after the seat of government of a united Italy was established at Rome.
The cool hills of Frascati gained the Villa Aldobrandini (1592); the Villa Falconieri and the Villa Mondragone.
The Villa d'Este near Tivoli is famous for the water play in its terraced gardens. The Villa Medici was on the edge of Rome, on the Pincian Hill, when it was built in 1540.
List of famous villas
In the early 18th century the English took up the term. Thanks to the revival of interest in Palladio and Inigo Jones, soon neo-palladian villas dotted the valley of the River Thames. In many ways Thomas Jefferson's Monticello is a villa. The Marble Hill House in England was conceived originally as "villas" in the 18th-century sense.
In the nineteenth century, villa was extended to describe any suburban house that was free-standing in a landscaped plot of ground, as opposed to a 'terrace' of joined houses. By the time 'semi-detached villas' were being erected at the turn of the twentieth century, the term collapsed under its extension and overuse. The suburban "villa" became a "bungalow" after World War I in post-colonial Britain, and by extension the term is used for suburban bungalows in both Australia and New Zealand, especially those dating from the period of rapid suburban development between 1920 and 1950. The villa concept lives on in southern Europe and in Latin America, where villas are associated with upper-class social position and lifestyle.
Modern architecture also produced some important examples of buildings called "villas":
Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright
Villa Savoye in Poissy, France, by Le Corbusier
Villa Tugendhat in Brno, Czech Republic, by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe