The core of the Villa was already documented in the '700's as belonging to the Pamphilj family. It then passed to the Colonna family who in 1797 sold it to Giovanni Torlonia, a wealthy man of French origins who established himself in Rome around the middle of the century and was the architect of an incredible economic and social ascent that made him a central figure in the aristocratic circles. Giovanni Torlonia provided his family with residences in keeping with its new status: the palace of Piazza Venezia and the Villa on Via Nomentana.
An initial renovation of the Villa was entrusted to Giuseppe Valadier, but the enlargement and complete transforination is attributed to Giovanni Torlonia's favorite son, Alessandro. Between 1835 and 1840 the original core of the Villa was enlarged and new buildings and sumptuous fumishings added. The main building created by Valadier was enriched with a majestic Palladian pronaos and a splendid array of decorations under the direction of Giovan Battista Caretti who was also responsible for a new entrance with false ruins, the restructuring of the Casino dei Principi, and the construction of a stable house in the neo-gothic style. At the same time, in the southem part of the park, Giuseppe Jappelli created a fantastic park in the English landscape style, dotted with fanciful buildings such as the Swiss lodge, the conservatory and Moorish tower, and the tournament grounds. The Villa during Alessandro's times reached a level of such pomp as to put it in direct conipetition with the villas of the nobility in Rome which were of much more long-standing tradition. At the beginning of the 20th century the Swiss lodge became the Casina delle Civette (House of the Little Owls) and the Villino Medievale (the Medieval House) and the Villino Rosso (The Red House) were built. From 1925 until 1943 the Villa was leased to Benito Mussolini for the purely symbolic sum of one lira a year, while the Prince Giovanni Torlonia withdrew to live in the Casina delle Civette.
In 1939, with the death of the last direct heir, the Villa began a period of decline, initially for complex inheritance disputes, and later for the disastrous occupation by the English and American forces from 1944 to 1947, followed by decades of neglect and ruin until only in 1978, with the acquisition on the part of the Rome city govemment, did the difficult work of recovery of the park and its buildings begin.