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This Italian Palace Is Filled With Secrets

Explore Desiderata, a home that belongs to one of Rome's oldest and most storied families


Few places are as evocative as Rome, a city that has seen multiple empires rise to great heights before crashing down. A history like that brings with it some spectacular buildings, homes of nobles, and princes and kings. As they are private residences, it’s usually impossible to catch a glimpse of this hidden world. That’s why a home like Desiderata is so special.

The Ruspoli family, who own the palace, trace their lineage back to Marius Scotius, Charlemagne’s right-hand man. They’re as distinguished as they come, with branches in many countries, but always anchored in Italy. In their time they’ve held such storied (some would say pompous) titles as Grand Masters of the Sacred Apostolic Hospice, Quartermasters-General of the Sacred Palaces, and Princes of the Holy Roman Empire. That last one’s in perpetuity. It’s an impressive CV.

‘Opulent’ barely begins to do Desiderata justice. Even though there’s only one bedroom, the flat tips 1500 square feet. Slabs of marble, vast oil paintings, hand-carved wood – if you can think of some signifier of old-world grandeur, the chances are you can find it here. Sideboards and mantelpieces heave with antique clocks and vases, and heavy velvet hangs from every window.

Just when you think it can’t get any more luxurious or ridiculous (take your pick), you discover the secret passages. Horrified by the thought of bathrooms or kitchens clashing with stately interiors, the family hid them away behind enormous paintings, which swing forward to reveal new corners of the flat. Although, why anyone would want to hide a bathroom like this is something we haven’t yet worked out.

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