Palazzo Alliata di Villafranca: a Baroque aristocratic home in Palermo
“We could have been to Timbuktu or Patagonia, and had seen wonderful things or lived unique experiences. But when we came back to Palermo, and coming up the street could see the first ‘goose-breast’ balconies of our Palazzo appear, Palazzo Villafranca, we felt a growing thrill – turning into pure happiness as we neared Piazza Bologni. Only then did the trip we had taken and the home that was waiting for us make sense.” This was Francesco Alliata di Villafranca’s description of his family’s palazzo.
The stately home was built in the historical Piazza Bologni by the Beccadelli family, when they arrived in town in the 16th-century: they hailed from Bologna but were one of the most powerful dynasties in Sicilian aristocracy at the time (hence the square being named after them). Later, the Alliata di Villafrancas acquired this building of extraordinary cultural, historical and artistic value in the 17th century; they passed it down in the family until 1984, when Princess Rosalia Correale Santacroce entrusted it to the Archdioceses of Palermo.
The façade has been damaged by the passage of time, but is still monumental. Its elegant balconies are the result of a renovation by architect Giovanni Battista Vaccarini in the late 1700s, while a marble plaque claims none other than Giuseppe Garibaldi lived here in May of 1860.
The interiors are luxurious and baroque, with frescoes of invaluable beauty, silk tapestry on the walls, gilded wood paneling and majolica floors. The succession of halls was designed to be simply astounding, in a crescendo of luxury and fine furniture pieces that reaches its climax at the ballroom. The palazzo’s owners were excellent patrons of the arts for years, and collected a considerable range of pieces. Amongst precious statues and archaeological finds, suffice it to mention the “Crucifixion” by Anton Van Dyck – oil-painted on canvas in 1624 – showcased in the Baroque Parlor.
Touching on just a few highlights: the Hall of Musicians has a polychrome wooden ceiling and portraits of the Alliata family hanging on the walls; the Hall of Prince Fabrizio has the latter’s portrait and two works by Matthias Stomer: “The Tribute Money” and “The Stoning of Saint Stephen”; the Tea Room and its charming decor are of great cultural value.
Finally, the Smoking Room – built by Enrico Alliata and his wife Sonia Ortuzar in the mid 1900s – is decorated in Louis Philippe style and features leather walls pyrographed with the family emblems. It is one of the largest smoking rooms in Europe and one of only two existing in Sicily (the other one being Palazzo Mirto’s leather-walled Salottino in Cuoio).