Villa Farnesina was built between 1508 and 1511 to a design by Baldassare Peruzzi as a pleasure palace and holiday home for the fabulously rich papal banker Agostino Chigi. Treasurer to Pope Julius II, Chigi was one of Raphael's principal patrons. In its day the villa was stuffed to the rafters with great works of art, although many were later sold to pay off debts. Chigi was known for his extravagant parties, where guests had the run of the palace and the magnificent gardens. Just to make sure his guests knew that money was no object, he would have his servants toss the silver and gold plates on which they dined into the Tiber - into underwater nets, to be fished out later and used again. The powerful Farnese family bought the villa and renamed it in 1577 after the Chigis went bankrupt.
The stunning frescoes are homages to the pagan and classical world; the works on the ground-floor Loggia of Psyche were designed by Raphael but executed by his friends and followers, including Giulio Romano; according to local lore, the master himself was too busy dallying with his mistress, la fornarina (baker's girl) to apply any more paint than was strictly necessary himself. The Grace with her back turned, to the right of the door, is attributed to him though. Around the corner in the Loggia of Galatea, Raphael took brush in hand to create the victorious goddess in her seashell chariot. Upstairs, the Salone delle Prospettive was decorated by Peruzzi with views of 16th-century Rome. Next to it is Agostino Chigi's bedroom, with a fresco of the Marriage of Alexander the Great and Roxanne by Raphael's follower Sodoma. Like most of his paintings, this is a rather sordid number showing the couple being undressed by vicious cherubs.
The villa stays open until 4pm on Mondays and Saturdays from mid March to July, from mid September to December. It also opens 9am-1pm on the first Sunday of every month.