How to Visit Palazzo Spada’s Offbeat Optical Illusion in Rome

Located a mere two-minute walk away from the Campo de’ Fiori, stepping into the beautiful and peaceful Palazzo Spada is like entering another Rome.

Suddenly, here is a Rome without crowds, without lines, without the noise and bustle of tourist attractions… but with all the same opulence and beauty.

Small and delightful, a visit to the Galleria Spada (which is housed inside the Palazzo Spada–I use both names semi-interchangeably here) is an excellent option for a Rome visitor looking to get off the beaten path a bit without having to physically travel far at all.

The combination of quiet but beautiful rooms, ease of access, and one very unique feature all add up to make Palazzo Spada one of the best hidden gems in Rome.

Here’s why (and how) to visit.

Corner of an art collection at Palazzo Spada Rome with a window on the left
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A Brief History of Palazzo Spada, Rome

Built during the 16th century, beautiful Palazzo Spada came under the control of Cardinal Bernardino Spada in 1632, who then began assembling an impressive art collection and commissioned Francesco Borromini to make alterations to the palace.

It’s at this point that part of the Palazzo Spada began to be transformed into the art gallery that we know it as today.

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Borromini made many alterations to the building itself, with his forced perspective gallery from 1653–more on that below–being by far the most famous (though still relatively unknown among modern visitors to Rome).

In 1927, the Italian government purchased the palace, and today the bulk of it is used by the Italian Council of State.

Four rooms, however, have been set aside as the Galleria Spada–and that’s the portion we can visit today.

Jeremy Storm standing in Galleria Spada Rome, one of the best things to see in Rome Italy

About Visiting the Galleria Spada

Galleria Spada is housed in four rooms on the first floor of the palace and consists of the art collection assembled by Cardinal Spada, his brother, and his nephew.

The collection is magnificent, focusing on 16th and 17th art and including works by Caravaggio, Titian, Guido Reni, and many others.

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Though the museum is small, it’s also incredibly peaceful!

Since a very small percentage of Rome’s visitors ever make it to the Palazzo Spada, the gallery is a very relaxed place and a calm in the storm of Rome’s often crowded art collections.

We absolutely loved our visit and expect to visit again in the future.

Once you finish exploring the Galleria Spada, it’s time to head back downstairs to the garden, where the most famous portion of the Palazzo Spada can be observed: Borromini’s forced perspective gallery.

Art collection at Galleria Spada Rome, housed in Palazzo Spada, one of the best things to see in Rome Italy

About Borromini’s Forced Perspective Gallery

Francesco Borromini’s Baroque masterpiece of illusion is the best-known feature of the Palazzo Spada, and an impressive trick for the eyes.

When standing at the edge of this colonnade (you can’t enter the colonnade itself for preservation reasons), you have the perspective of standing at the end of a long corridor–but this is merely an illusion.

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The gallery is merely 9 meters long and features a stone statue that looks like a full-sized man representing the Roman god of Mars at the far end.

Mars isn’t actually full-sized though: he’s only 90 centimeters (about 35 inches) tall!

(Being a god of war, I can’t imagine Mars would be a fan of the pint-sized representation.)

Close up of Borromini forced perspective gallery at Palazzo Spada Rome

The statue of Mars isn’t original, either, but was added in the 19th century!

Originally, the far end featured a forest scene.

The bushes on either side of the “garden” are part of the original illusion: Borromini carved them out of stone, not trusting a gardener to get the measurements exactly right.

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As you reach the end of the gallery, the floor rises and the ceiling lowers subtly, with the columns shrinking along the way–so what looks like it’s merely a function of distance, is actually a function of size.

Personally, we felt the illusion was most effective when standing a bit further back from it.

Knowing what to expect going in, it was fairly easy to “force” our eyes to see through the illusion.

I half-wished we could have gone in knowing nothing about it, but the courtyard of Palazzo Spada isn’t something you’re likely to accidentally stumble into as a tourist!

Kate Storm standing in front of forced perspective gallery Borromini at Galleria Spada Rome
Look at all that open space! We were the only visitors to this optical illusion during the entire 20 minutes we spent observing it–a rare feat in Rome.

How to Visit the Galleria Spada

The Galleria Spada is located toward the back of the Palazzo Spada in Rome.

If you walk into the palace from the street, you’ll walk directly through the courtyard used by the Italian Council of State, and then see signs for the Galleria Spada start to appear.

The entrance will be on the left: if you hit the bathrooms, you’ve gone too far.

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Galleria Spada is open from 8:30 AM to 7:30 PM every day except for Tuesday, and ticket sales close at 7:00 PM.

Tickets are 5 Euro per person, and the Galleria Spada is free to visit on the first Sunday of each month.

While how long to spend in a particular art museum is definitely a matter of personal preference, we were comfortable with about an hour here.

Entrance to Galleria Spada within Palazzo Spada Rome
The entrance to Galleria Spada.

What’s near the Galleria Spada in Rome?

When visiting the Galleria Spada, you are a very short walk away from Campo de’ Fiori, as well as Ponte Sisto, one of the bridges that cross the Tiber River into Trastevere.

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You’re also a short walk (10 minutes or less) from many of the attractions in Centro Storico, including Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, and the Largo di Torre Argentina.

Palazzo Spada is about a 20-minute walk from the Trevi Fountain and a 25-30 minute walk from the Colosseum.

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Planning a trip to Rome?

The Eternal City is one of our favorites in the world, and we can’t stop writing about it!

Here are a few of our other guides to Rome that might interest you (you can view all of our Italy blog posts here).

Palazzo Spada Address + Map

Piazza Capo di Ferro, 13, 00186 Roma RM, Italy

Take This Map With You! Click each highlight to pull up the name of the destination. To save this map to “Your Places” on Google Maps, click the star to the right of the title. You’ll then be able to find it under the Maps tab of your Google Maps account! To open the map in a new window, click the button on the top right of the map.

bust inside the galleria spada rome italy carved out of marble

About Kate Storm
Image of the author, Kate Storm

In May 2016, I left my suburban life in the USA and became a full-time traveler. Since then, I have visited 50+ countries on 5 continents and lived in Portugal, developing a special love of traveling in Europe (especially Italy) along the way. Today, along with my husband Jeremy and dog Ranger, I’m working toward my eventual goal of splitting my life between Europe and the USA.

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