Palazzo Boncompagni (now Benelli) is situated just few steps away from piazza Maggiore and the Two Towers, right in the historical centre of the city. Pope Gregory XIII, who was previously Cardinal Ugo Boncompagni, was born and lived in the palace – which belonged to his family – until his rise to popehood on 13 May 1572. The Palace was built upon initiative of his father – Cristoforo Boncompagni – in 1537, and completed in 1548; it stands out due to its sober fourteen-century styled façade and its large adorned portal. The papal insignia of Gregory XIII, Ugo Boncompagni, is visible on the 1545 portal.
The drawing of the initial core of Palazzo Boncompagni could be the work of architect Tommaso Peruzzi from Siena (1481 – 1536), but its completion, both the inside and the outside, has to be attributed – according to many scholars – to Jacopo Barozzi, also known as ‘il Vignola’ (1507 – 1573). The latter, architect and theoretician, was among the most important exponents of Mannerism and is renowned for the realization of greatly elegant buildings and for having defined with extreme clarity the concept of ‘architectural order’ in his famed Rule of the Five Orders of Architecture, one of the most influent and popular architectural treaties at the time. Both the magnificent helical staircase and the gallery’s end towards the portal, which gives access to the stairs, are attributed to Vignola, given their figurative and structural vigour and maturity; the decoration over the small window and above the door appears to be analogous to the ones designed by Vignola for Palazzo dei Banchi (Bologna).
In the Jubilee year 1575, pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni commissioned a fresco depicting the city of Bologna in the homonymous hall in the Apostolic Palace, between the private rooms of the Pope and the offices of the State Secretariat, proving his affection for his own hometown: the only non-religious building that appears with a gold-plated roof is indeed Palazzo Boncompagni.
Pope Gregory XIII was an extraordinary innovator: he deserves the credit for the transformation of the School wanted by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in what will later be the Gregorian University, and especially for the calendar reform, by replacing the Julian calendar (which dates back to Juius Ceasar’s times) with what we now call “Gregorian” calendar.
The extraordinary ‘Pope’s Hall’ inside Palazzo Boncompagni is a big and frescoed hall that was destined to papal auditions, for the occasions in which the Bolognese Pontiff came back in his hometown. The large reception hall on the ground floor, which has exceptional acoustic characteristics, is adorned with a beautiful and rare Serena stone chimney, probably crafted on a Pellegrino Tibaldi’s drawing, who later painted the frescos of the ceiling and the space above the chimney with his pupils, during the second half of the 1500s.