Palladio built the Villa Rotonda close to the town of Vicenza as a place of entertainment. It is also sometimes known as the Villa Almerico Capra, after the original patron, Monsignor Paolo Almerico, and its later owners, the Capra family.
The villa’s location on top of a low hill is key to its design. Six columned porticos flank each side of a square building, offering panoramic views to those inside, and providing four grandiose façades for those approaching.
The sense of majesty is increased by a central dome. Previously domes had been associated with religious buildings. However, through his study of Roman baths, Palladio had learnt that they could be used on secular structures.
The dome as built differs slightly to that illustrated in I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura. Palladio died in 1580 and his pupil Vincenzo Scamozzi completed the building in 1606. Whether the final design, in particular that of the dome, was the work of Scamozzi or Palladio remains a matter of debate.
Palladio states in I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura that, unlike other villas, the Villa Rotonda only has living quarters on the lower (ground) floor, and that the piano nobile above contained the state rooms.
The Villa Rotonda had no farm buildings and, as the most urban of his villas, Palladio included it in the palaces, or town houses, section of I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura. The stables and other outbuildings which now surround the villa were added after Palladio’s death. It is unsurprising that it was this villa, rather than one of Palladio's agricultural houses, that became the model for 18th-century British aristocrats.