Since 1983, Palazzo Farnese has been home to the Civic Museums, the State Archives, some municipal offices, a space for temporary exhibitions and a conference room situated in the former Ducal Chapel, which was built around 1597-1601 under the reign of Ranuccio I.
The museum, which occupies all the floors of the building, offers visitors the opportunity to admire the various halls of the Farnese palace; these include the Duke’s apartment with marvellous stucco decorations, the Duchess’s apartment with frescoed ceilings and amazing quadrature (a kind of illusionistic ceiling painting), the dungeons – which house the museum of carriages – and the dungeons of the fortress (Cittadella) – which house the Liver of Piacenza, an Etruscan bronze model of a sheep’s liver, the only direct evidence of the Etruscan religion.
At the head of the monumental grand staircase of the Palazzo Farnese is a magnificent wrought iron gate dating back to the late 1600s; it is surmounted by the ducal coat of arms and decorated with fleur-de-lis – the symbol of the Farnese family.
The architectural complex includes the unfinished 16th-century ducal palace and the Citadel, built by the Visconti family at the end of the 1300s.
The 14th-century building, of which only the western part survive, originally was a castle with four angular towers surrounded by a moat. The citadel was enlarged, raised and partly modified – with the addition of some loggias – in the early 1500s before the construction of the ducal palace.
Palazzo Farnese was built at the behest of duchess of Parma and Piacenza Margaret of Parma (1522-1586), daughter of Charles V and Ottavio Farnese’s wife. The palace imagined by Margaret had to symbolise the newly reconquered power of the Farnese family. The project, dating back to 1561, was commissioned to architect Jacopo Barozzi called Vignola, who had already worked in the villa Caprarola.
Due to a lack of money, the construction was never finished, and today’s palace, finished in 1602, is less than half of Vignola’s original project.
The decline of the building started when the succession of the Farnese family ended and the goods and estate passed to the Bourbons. In 1734-36, Charles III of Spain, heir of the house of Farnese and king of Naples, brought to his palace the most exquisite furniture and paintings coming from the Farnese palaces. The decline continued in 1803 when the Napoleonic troops plundered and pillaged the castle, and reached its nadir in 1822 when the palace was turned into barracks by the Austrian army.
Palazzo Farnese has been refurbished since the mid-1900s; it has been home to the Civic Museums since 1997 and became the property of the Municipality of Piacenza in 2014.