In 1822, the body of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley washed upon the shore of Viareggio after dying in a shipwreck. That same year, Paolina Bonaparte, the sister of Napoleon, was constructing a summer residence against the gorgeous backdrop of the Parco Dei Bambini, just a block away from the Mediterranean. It is said that Paolina was an admirer of Shelley’s poems and built her villa where Shelley’s body was found to honor him.
After undergoing extensive renovations, the villa was reopened to the public and now hosts the Civic Museums of Villa Paolina and a gallery of contemporary art. Get insight into the life of ancient tribes in the Museo Archeologico and see collections of Paleolithic and Neolithic objects, including pottery and bronze objects. See a variety of historical instruments from all over the world in the Museo Strumenti Musicali. Highlights of the collection include a pochette, an intricately decorated pocket violin.
The villa building itself is a masterpiece. While only two-stories high, the building takes up a full city block. It has a lush interior courtyard complete with a garden and citrus grove.
For many of the rooms, Paolina commissioned opulent murals depicting scenes from all over the world. Tour the State Rooms to see fine examples of period décor. All of the bedrooms and salons were arranged to face the beach; look out the expansive windows to the beautiful vistas of the Mediterranean. By appointment, you can see the upstairs studio of artist Alfredo Catarsini, where he painted for over 50 years until his death in 1993. The studio has been preserved with Catarsini’s original furnishings and art.
The Villa Paolina is centrally located in Viareggio. You can easily walk from the villa to the ocean or to a number of shops and restaurants.
The museum’s opening hours vary throughout the year. Check the schedule on the villa’s website, or ask locally, before you visit. There is a small admission fee.