Palazzo Farnese in Piacenza is located at the Northern borders of the town and is clearly separate from the rest of the old town, so that its massive structure contributes to a majestic view that may be enjoyed arriving in Piacenza from Lombardy or from the river Po. Such characteristic is evident in the view of Piacenza portrayed in an interesting painting by Malosso, which is now preserved in the Museum Art Gallery and dates back to 1603; the painting represents Christ and the Virgin Mary interceding on behalf of the town.
The palace was built in an area where there had previously been a fortress ordered by Galeazzo II Visconti in 1352; it was carried out upon will of Margaret of Austria - daughter of Charles the 5th and wife of Ottavio Farnese, second Duke of Parma and Piacenza, with the aim to supply Piacenza with a residence expressing the Duke's rule on the town. Margaret had expressed her attachment to the town more than once,and even wanted to be buried in S. Sisto church, not far from the palace she had wanted, where Raffaello's Madonna Sistina was preserved.
The construction of the palace started in 1558 upon a project initially drawn by Francesco Paciotto from Urbino; it was subsequently assigned to Jacopo Barozzi, known as Vignola, arrived in Parma during those years to follow Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. Vignola, who had probably already modified the drawings of 1558 by Paciotto, in 1561 submitted to the duke and the Duchess a new project that obtained their approval. The building of the complex was assigned to the mason masters Giovanni Bernardo Dallavalle, Giovanni Laverzari and Bernardo Panizzari known as Caramosino, and underwent periods of intense work and several interruptions as well. The construction, sponsored by the Municipality of Piacenza, was finished in 1602. Only half of the complex designed by Vignola was carried out. If it had been completed, it would have represented the only Italian royal palace similar to the contemporary French and Spanish models. The greatness of Palazzo Farnese witnesses the modernity of the project by Vignola. At the same time time, its being unfinished was a clear consequence of the progressive isolation of the Farneses in the international politics of the 17th century, despite their grandiose aspirations in the previous century.
The palace symbolized for the whole 16th century the power of the Farnese family, since it was the residence of the Duke and the place where the court gathered around its sovereign on official occasions or for important celebrations.
Therefore, both private and larger official rooms were richly decorated.To that purpose the Farnese family ordered a cycle of paintings with stucco frames aiming at telling the story of one of the most famous representatives of the family: Pope Paolo III (whose real name was Alessandro Farnese) and Alessandro Farnese.
In the 18th century, after the extintion of the Farnese family (1731) their estates were taken over by the Borbone. This fact was followed by a long period of decadence for the palace, that was stripped of its paintings and furniture by Carlos Borbone (1734-36), who had become king of Naples; after that, in 1803 it was plundered by Napoleon's troops; in 1822, under the Austrian rule, it was converted into a barrack; finally, in 1945 it was occupied by the homeless.
The restoration of the building has therefore been very hard and expensive, but has been effectively supported by the constitution in 1965 of "Ente per il Restauro e L'Utilizzazione di Palazzo Farnese" (Board for the Restoration and Exploit of Palazzo Farnese). Such work, which is nearly over, was sponsored by Ministero per i Beni culturali (Cultural Assets Board), The Province of Piacenza and The Council of Piacenza .