The $533 Million Italian Villa That Nobody Wanted

This astonishingly expensive Roman Villa reignites fears of losing culture in a world of growing foreign ownership.

On January 18, the Casino dell’Aurora went up for auction, with an asking price of €471 million euros ($533 million USD). If the auction had been successful, the Villa Aurora would have become the single most expensive home of its size in the world. 

Unfortunately, the auction failed to attract a single bidder and now, an Italian tribunal has declared the price must be dropped to €377 million euros ($427 million USD) when it goes back to auction. 

Now, you might be wondering why this particular Roman villa is one of the most expensive properties on the planet, and why it’s being forcibly sold at auction…

The Villa Aurora itself is a luxurious 2,800 square metre villa, which itself is perched atop a 6,000 square metre plot in the heart of Rome. Occupants of the villa are kept completely private by its 500-year-old walls and manicured gardens.

Credit: Google Maps 

However, what makes this 16th century villa truly worth its astonishing price tag, is that it houses a series of incredibly valuable historic artefacts, including a “priceless” one-of-a-kind work from Italian painter Caravaggio.

Caravaggio’s Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto (1597). The only known ceiling work painted by the Baroque artist. 

Professor Alessandro Zuccari who oversaw the valuation of the Villa’s artworks, says that this fresco is the only one ever to have been painted by Caravaggio, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest artists of the modern age.

Despite its status as “invaluable” among art connoisseurs, the fresco has been officially evaluated by independent appraisers, who suggest that its real market value is somewhere around €311 million euros ($360 million USD).

The villa also contains thousands of other Italian artworks, sculptures and artefacts of profound cultural and historical significance. 

Villa Aurora’s ownership became the subject of debate back in 2018, when owner Prince Nicolò Boncompagni Ludovisi died at the age of 77. Following his death, a lengthy legal battle between the different heirs of Prince Nicolo emerged and the end result was an Italian judicial order to sell the villa.

Forcing the sale of the villa to whoever happens to be the highest bidder immediately raised fears of allowing opportunistic foreign buyers to swoop in and privately control important aspects of Italian heritage and culture.

In response to this, more than 39,000 people have signed a petition in the past few days, begging the Italian government to step in and purchase the villa in order to protect Italian culture. 

Too Much Foreign Ownership?

This has once again sparked debate around the level of foreign ownership that should be welcomed into countries, especially when it comes to buying up heritage listed or culturally significant properties. 

This trend has become increasingly relevant in Australia as well. Despite Covid shutting down our borders and preventing travel, 2021 was a massive year for foreign investment in the Australian property market, with over $6 billion in residential real estate being sold…

Should properties with such enormous cultural significance, like the Villa Aurora be auctioned off privately to the highest bidder?

Or, do governments have a responsibility to protect important cultural assets?

Those that are up in arms over the sale, including a number of politicians and academics will find out on April 7, when the villa is scheduled to go back under the hammer.

This time, Villa Aurora will be on sale for a more “reasonable” price of $427 million US dollars…

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