POINTS OF INTEREST
Rome's grandest family built themselves Rome's grandest private palazzo, a fusion of 17th- and 18th-century buildings on a spot they have occupied for a millennium. It's so immense that it faces Piazza dei Santi Apostoli on one side and the Quirinale (Quirinal Hill) on the other (a little bridge over Via della Pilotta links the palace with the gardens on the hill). While still home to some Colonna patricians, the palace also holds the family picture gallery, which is open to the public on Saturday mornings. The gallery is itself a setting of aristocratic grandeur; you might recognize the Sala Grande as the site where Audrey Hepburn meets the press in Roman Holiday. At one end looms the ancient red marble column (colonna in Italian), which is the family's emblem; above the vast room is the spectacular ceiling fresco of the Battle of Lepanto painted by Giovanni Coli and Filippo Gherardi in 1675—the center scene almost puts the computer-generated special effects of Hollywood to shame. Adding redundant luster to the opulently stuccoed and frescoed salons are works by Poussin, Tintoretto, and Veronese, and a number of portraits of illustrious members of the family such as Vittoria Colonna, Michelangelo's muse and longtime friend, and Marcantonio Colonna, who led the papal forces in the great naval victory at Lepanto in 1577. Lost in the array of madonnas, saints, goddesses, popes, and cardinals is Annibale Carracci's lonely Beaneater, spoon at the ready and front teeth missing. (As W. H. Auden put it, "Grub first, art later.") At noon, there's a guided tour in English, included in your entrance fee. The gallery also boasts a caffè with a pleasant terrace when weather permits.