Villa Strohl-Fern, in Rome: secret dwelling of artists near Piazza del Popolo

The “forgotten” villa near Piazzale Flaminio. Villa Strohl-Fern, in Rome, is one of those “forgotten places” where you leave your soul. They are not accessible to everyone. It is not a matter of openness and accessibility, but of predisposition, of vision, of essence. The park in which Villa Strohl-Fern stands corresponds to the vast forested area bordering the Villa Borghese terminal line, from the left Propileo up to the Valle Giulia stairway. This splendid and varied extension of green was bought in 1879 by the German-speaking French citizen, because Alsatian, Alfred Wilhelm Strohl. The eclectic owner. He had traveled half a world, a writer, musician, painter, sculptor, poet, although not yet forty (he was born in 1847 in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, Department of the Upper Rhine). Satisfied by wandering, restless, looking for himself, he stopped in Rome and did not move more until his death, which occurred in 1926. Alfred Wilhelm Strohl (known by all the inhabitants of the Villa as “Merlin the Wizard” for the thick white beard) added to his family the adjective “fern”: “far”. And, always, it has been said that in this way he wanted to allude to the distance from the homeland … or “far from the world”. Magical and mysterious place. On the perimeter of an old country house by Valadier, Strohl-Fern built his residence; he was the one who designed it. A half-Gothic, half-Romanic construction that, according to many, will recall the mysterious signs of the famous painting “The Island of the Dead” by Arnold Böcklin, from 1880. The Villa was structured as a fabulous labyrinth, in the center of which formed a sort of “forbidden city”, with a high fence around it. Inside that fence, a fabulous garden prevailed. On the highest point was the pine forest: one of the most beautiful in Rome. The artist’s studies, the patronage of “Merlin the Wizard”. In three distinct areas of the park, Strohl-Fern had started the construction of a hundred artist’s studios. It was an act of patronage, given the very low standard that he requested. Speaking of the inhabitants of the Villa, it is not possible to mention all the ingenuities that over the years have taken place in the various ateliers, just think of the sculptor Emil Fuchs; Ilija Riepin; Enrique Serra; Edoardo Giova; Umberto Maggioli; Renato Brozzi; the “Mastro Paragon Coppella” related to D’Annunzio; Arturo Martini; Amedeo Bocchi; Nino Bertolettii; Cipriano Efisio Oppo; Nicola D’Antino; Carlo Socrate; Ercole Drei; Attilio Selva; Attilio Torresini; Francesco Di Cocco; Luigi Surdi; Anzilotto Modotto; Wanda and Alfredo Biagini; Giuseppe Lallich, the Dalmatian painter from Split who lived the first and so-called “ignored exodus, that of the 1920s, the Russian sculptor Lidia Trenin Franchetti, Francesco Coccia, Marcello Avenali, Carlo Levi, Giuseppe Ciotti, Eugenio De Courten, Lorenzo Guerrini. All this to name a few. Not only did painters or sculptors resurge in the Villa: Anton Giulio Bragaglia; the German journalist Marianna Bezzi; Bruno Barilli with the three dancers Sorelle Braun. Still, among the regular visitors stood Francesco Saverio Nitti, in 1921, for his “post-prandium” walks and, between 1920 and 1930, the happy “incursions” of Roberto Longhi and Aldo Briganti. After World War II that enchanted world ended, sadly replaced by the high school Chateaubriand. Another slap to Beauty. Today, however, only by reservation and on some days of the month, it is possible to visit what remains of the magnificent residence. Always and only for those who know how to see it …