A villa was originally a Roman country house built for the upper class. According to Pliny, there were two kinds of villas, the villa urbana, which was a country seat that could easily be reached from Rome (or another city) for a night or two, and the villa rustica, the farm-house estate, permanently occupied by the servants who had charge generally of the estate, which would center on the villa itself, perhaps only seasonally occupied. There were a concentration of Imperial villas near the Bay of Naples, especially on the Isle of Capri, at Monte Circeo on the coast and at Antium (Anzio). Wealthy Romans escaped the summer heat in the hills round Rome, especially around Frascati (cf Hadrian'Cicero" title ="Cicero">Cicero is said to have possessed no less than seven villas, the oldest of which was near Arpinum, which he inherited. Pliny the Younger had three or four, of which the example near Laurentium is the best known from his descriptions.
Roman writers refer with satisfaction to the self-sufficiency of their villas, where they drank their own wine and pressed their own oil, a symptom of the increasing economic fragmentation of the Roman empire. When complete working villas were donated to the Christian church, they served as the basis for monasteries that survived the disruptions of the Gothic War and the Lombards. An outstanding example of such a villa-turned-monastery was Monte Cassino.
Numerous Roman villas have been meticulously examined in England. Like their Italian counterparts, they were complete working agrarian societies of fields and vinyards, perhaps even tileworks or quarries, ranged round a high-status power center with its baths and gardens. The grand villa at Woodchester preserved its mosaic floors when the Anglo-Saxon parish church was built (not by chance) upon its site. Burials in the churchyard as late as the 18th century had to be punched through the intact mosaic floors. The even more palatial villa rustica at Fishbourne near Winchester was built uncharacteristically as a large open rectangle with porticos enclosing gardens that was entered through a portico. Towards the end of the 3rd century, Roman towns in Britain ceased to expand: like patricians near the center of the empire, Roman Britons withdrew from the cities to their villas, which entered on a palatial building phase, a "golden age" of villa life.
Two kinds of villa plan in Roman Britain may be characteristic of Roman villas in general. The more usual plan extended wings of rooms all opening onto a linking portico, which might be extended at right angles, even to enclose a courtyard. The other kind featured an aisled central hall like a basilica, suggesting the villa owner's magisterial role. The villa buildings were often independent structures linked by their enclosed courtyards. Timber-framed construction, carefully fitted with mortices and tenons and dowelled together, set on stone footings, were the rule, replaced by stone buildings for the important ceremonial rooms. Traces of window glass have been found as well as ironwork window grilles.
In post-Roman times a villa referred to a self-sufficient, usually fortified Italian or Gallo-Roman farmstead. It was economically as self-sufficient as a village and its inhabitants, who might be legally tied to it as serfs were villeins. The Merovingian Franks inherited the concept, but the later French term was basti or bastide.
In Spain, a villa is a town with a charter (fuero) of lesser importance than a ciudad ("city"). Later evolution has made the distinction between villas and ciudades a purely honorific one. Madrid is the Villa y Corte, but the much smaller Ciudad Real was declared ciudad by the Spanish crown. Villa (or its cognates) is part of many Spanish placenames, like Vila Real and Villadiego. When it is associated to a person name, it was probably used in the original sense of a country estate rather than a chartered town.
In 14th and 15th century Italy, a 'villa'Villa_Caprarola" title ="Villa Caprarola">Villa Caprarola, more often designed for seasonal pleasure, usually located within easy distance of a city. The Villa d'Este near Tivoli is famous for the water play in its terraced gardens. The Villa Medici was on the edge of Rome, on the Pincian Hill, when it was built in 1540. In the later 16th century the villas designed by Andrea Palladio round Vicenza and along the Brenta Canal in Venetian territories, remained influential for over two hundred years. Palladio often unified all the farmbuildings into the architecture of his extended villas (as at Villa Emo). Other famous Italian villas are the Villa Madama, the design of which, attributed to Raphael, was carried out by Giulio Romano in 1520; the Villa Albani, near the Porta Salaria; the Villa Borghese with its famous gardens; the Villa Doria Pamphili (1650); the Villa Giulia of Pope Julius III (1550), designed by Vignola. The cool hills of Frascati gained the Villa Aldobrandini (1592); the Villa Falconieri and the Villa Mondragon.
In the early 18th century the English took up the term. Soon neo-palladian villas dotted the valley of the River Thames. In many ways Thomas Jefferson'Monticello" title ="Monticello">Monticello is a villa. In the 19th century villa was extended to describe any suburban house that was free-standing in a landscaped plot of ground, as opposed to a 'terrace' of joined houses. By the time 'semi-detached villas' were being erected at the turn of the 20th century, the term collapsed under its extension and overuse. The suburban 'villa'Bungalow" title ="Bungalow">bungalow after World War I.
- John Percival, The Roman Villa, 1976
- Roman villa
- Villa Badoer, in the Po river valley near Ferrara and Venice
- Villa Borghese, Rome
- Villa Savoye in Poissy, France
- Tugendhat Villa in Brno, Czech Republic