The Società Geografica Italiana (Italian Geographical Society) is headquartered in the beautiful 17th-century building that was once the residence of Duke Ciriaco Mattei, a Roman aristocrat who in 1566 inherited an estate on the Caelian Hill from his father-in-law. Now known as Villa Celimontana, the beautiful venue is located right next to Saint Gregory Park.
Mattei was friends with both Caravaggio and Filippo Neri – allowing the holy man to stop at Villa Celimontana for a break with the faithful he led during the Seven Church pilgrimage.
When he acquired the estate, the duke first took care to rearrange the neglected vineyard, which faces north towards the ruins of the Temple of Claudius and east towards the Arch of Dolabella.
In the next twenty years or so, Mattei – who meanwhile became a deputy for the Capitoline Factories in 1576 – completely redeveloped the area adding a terraced garden with tree-lined boulevards, fountains, statues, squares, an underground nymphaeum and even an Egyptian obelisk from the age of Ramses II, received as a gift from the city of Rome. Between 1577 and 1581, he built the hall that, after renovations by his son Gian Battista, would welcome the Società Geografica Italiana in 1924.
Founded in Florence in 1867 to promote geographical culture and knowledge, since its inception the Società Geografica Italiana committed to exploring newly discovered lands. It moved to Rome in 1872 and is active to this day in the promotion of scientific research and widespread education through study and research programs about territories and the environment.
Amongst the wonderful rooms of Palazzetto Mattei – lavishly decorated with frescoes by Andrea Lilli, Pietro Sigismondi, Andrea Sacchi, Orazio Monaldi and Orazio Zecca – the rich library of the Società Geografica keeps over 400,000 volumes about geography and adjacent subjects, including antique books, rare printed copies and important handwritten travel journals from different periods between the 16th and 19th centuries.
All in all, it is one of the most important specialized document collections in Italy, and one of the biggest ones in Europe. Enjoy a glimpse of it in our gallery.