Villa MondragoneVilla Mondragone is by far the largest of the villas at Frascati. As early as 1567, Cardinal Marco Sitico Altemps (Marx Sitich von Hohenems) had a villa built by Martino Lunghi, but it seems to have been a very modest affair, and it first reached its present size and importance under Scipio Borghese, the powerful cardinal nephew of Paul V. The Altemps family exchanged this villa for the Palazzo Rospigliosi on the Quirinal, where even a short time before there had been the very important ruins of the Baths of Constantine, To a man of vigorous nature, in an age of vigorous activities, such ruins were only tiresome obstacles, and Scipio Borghese cleared them all away, and on the top built a palace and garden. Scarcely was this project completed when he was attracted by other schemes, and he exchanged his villa on the Quirinal for the Villa Mondragone.
A whole army of architects (always at the service of the Borghesi), including Ponzio, Vasancio, Girolamo Rainaldi, Giovanni Fontana, were now summoned to convert a little summer-house into the present gigantic structure with its 366 windows. In front of the house lies a terrace of enormous dimensions, which is really only (as at Aldobrandini) a roof for the kitchens below, and is similarly furnished with chimneys to suit the style. The three-shelled dragon fountain stood on the central semicircular projection, where the double coat of arms of the family was held in place by four eagles above and four dragons below. From the terrace, the farm is visible, traversed by avenues which were once decked with very fine statues and fountains. The majestic cypress avenue leads to the main entrance, and semicircular stairs enclose the end of a space immediately in front of the terrace. The theme of the semicircle repeats itself throughout the whole of the Villa Mondragone. If you walk through the great court behind the palace, which on the right has a small low building as a sort of winter gallery, and on the left is separated only by a wall from the flower- garden, you proceed by way of arcades into an amphitheatre cut deeply into the hillside. But east of the great court, completely enclosed, there is a charming flower-garden, and this also ends in a semicircular "theatre" raised on a terrace. This feature shows, with niches cut deep for the sake of the perspective, the very clear parallels between the garden scheme so often used at Frascati and a permanent theatre decoration. It was not long since Palladio’s Olympic Theatre was finished, a work much admired for its perspective, and all over Italy the larger towns were beginning to build great theatres.