History of the Ruspoli Cerveteri Castle

History of the Ruspoli Cerveteri Castle

Cerveteri is located on a tuff spur on the southern slopes of the Monti della Tolfa, between the Tyrrhenian Sea and Lake Bracciano and it stands on the site of the ancient Etruscan city of Caere. The heart of the medieval city is the Ruspoli Castle, overlooked by a thirteenth-century fortress with bulwarks and towers.

Sections of Etruscan walls dating back to the fourth century BC are incorporated in the fortifications surrounding the building. In the 10th century it was ruled by the Holy See. At the end of the 11th century, it was dominated by the Crescenzi family, but was soon taken away from them by the pope and the emperor. In 1192 it was a feud of Pietro Latro of the Corsi family. At the beginning of the 13th century, it was almost completely abandoned by its inhabitants, who founded Caere Nova. In 1300 the Castle of Caere Vetus (hence the name “Cerveteri”) belonged to the Venturini family.

In 1446 it was occupied by Everso II of Anguillara, but in 1465 Paolo II took it away from his sons and gave it back to the Venturini. In 1472 the feud was returned to the Apostolic Chamber. In 1478 it was pledged to the cardinal d’Estouteville. It was then redeemed and in 1481 it was given as a feud to the Della Rovere family.

In 1485 it was looted by the troops of the King of Naples. In 1487 it was sold by the pope’s nephew Bartolomeo Giuba Dalla Rovere to Francesco Cybo, son of Innocenzo VIII who gave it to the Orsini family in 1492. They kept it, except for brief periods of time (in 1497 and 1503 it was taken from them by Alessandro VI, and in 1539 confiscated by Paolo III). It was the Orsinis who enlarged the building and adopted a Sangallo style in order to defend themselves against pirate attacks which increased in the sixteenth century. The Orsini also provided the Piano Nobile with a lot of different rooms decorated with the coat of arms of Gentile Virginio Orsini and painted with mythological scenes, such as the Stories of Polyphemus.

In the 17th century, the fortunes of the Orsinis began to decline: the first dismemberments of the estate took place with the sale of properties, until in 1674 the Castle and its territory were sold to Bartolomeo Ruspoli, for 550,000 scudi. The Ruspolis added their coat of arms to the main door and in 1760 they connected the Piano Nobile to the adjacent church of Santa Maria Maggiore with a small passage. The Castle has an irregular rectangular plan which emphasizes the perimeter of the ancient wall around the square. The façade on the square is characterized by a marked asymmetry: on the left, the portico with a five-arched loggia contrasts with the right part, where the ashlar door opens with the Ruspoli coat of arms. Part of the enclosure walls of the Etruscan city and the Castle and the fortified centre of the medieval city, surrounded by curtains incorporating stretches of Etruscan walls dating back to the 4th century BC are still preserved.

The thirteenth-century fortress with crenelations, towers and bulwarks, today houses the Cerite National Archaeological Museum: donated by the Ruspoli family to the Italian State in 1967, it tells the history of Cerveteri with archaeological findings dated between the 9th and 1st centuries BC.


Today the palace is a museum open to the public at the behest of its owners Maria Pia and Giacinta Ruspoli, heirs of Prince Sforza Ruspoli.


History of the Ruspoli Cerveteri Castle

History of the Ruspoli Cerveteri Castle

The Ruspolis are a noble and historic Italian family. The origins of the Ruspoli family can be traced back to the 13th century in Florence, originating from the Marescottis of Bologna and Mario Scoto from Scotland in 800 AD., a captain of the troops of Charlemagne’s army.

Fifteen Popes had kinship ties with the Marescotti Ruspoli families; eight of them on Giacinta Conti di Segni and di Tuscolo’s side, mother of Isabella Cesi Ruspoli (1676-1753), wife of Francesco Maria Ruspoli.

They were, in order, Giovanni XII (955-964), Benedetto VII (974-985), Benedetto VIII (1012-1024), Giovanni XIX (1024-1032), Benedetto IX (1032-1044), Innocenzo III (1221-1224), Gregorio IX (1227-1241) and Alessandro IV (1234-1261).

As a result of the marriages between the Marescotti-Ruspoli families two more popes were generated: Alessandro Farnese or Pope Paolo III (1534-1549), and Ippolito Aldobrandini or Pope Clemente VIII (1592 – 1605), well known for having sent Giordano Bruno to the stake. Three other popes were from the Orsini family, such as Celestino III (1191-1198), Nicolò III (1277-1280), and Benedetto XIII (1724-1730); and two from the Della Rovere family, Pope Sisto IV (1471-1484), who commissioned the construction of the Sistine Chapel and created the celebration of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, and Pope Giulio II (1503-1513).

After moving to Rome in the 17th century, the last descendant of the family, Vittoria Ruspoli of the Marquises of Cerveteri, married Sforza Vicino Marescotti IV Count of Vignanello, descendant of the Farnese family on both her mother’s and father’s sides. One of Vittoria’s sons took later the surname and the coat of arms of the Ruspoli to keep the family lineage.

In 1708 Vittoria’s nephew, Francesco Ruspoli created the Ruspoli regiment at his own expense.

Made up of about 1,000 men, the army was enjoying victories until 1709, when in Ferrara, thanks to a superior armament, it managed to push the Austrians towards the north of the Po river. It was a great victory for which Pope Clement XI, full of gratitude, made the Marquisate of Cerveteri a Principality, appointing Francesco I Prince of Cerveteri, on 3rd February 1709.

Since then, the Ruspoli family has been living between the Cerveteri Castle, the Ruspoli Palace in Rome and the Vignanello Castle.

Castello Ruspoli di Vignanello
Palazzo Ruspoli di Roma​