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A Texas-Born Princess and Former Scandalous Washington Wife May Lose Roman Villa in Epic Inheritance Fight


For centuries, Rome has been an art lovers' paradise, drawing tourists, historians and all manner of cultural connoisseur. But almost none of them has ever laid eyes on a majestic site just steps away from the central Via Veneto. It's a sprawling 16th century villa filled with masterpieces from antiquity to the Renaissance, and it's never been open to the public.

The property and its vast holdings are now at the center of an inheritance battle between a Texas-born princess and her stepsons. And on Tuesday, it goes up for auction.

The listing on the court website includes a video — with an incongruous musical background — that highlights the six-level monumental property and its breathtaking views of Rome. The starting price is $534 million – with bidding rising in increments of more than $1 million.

Until some 20 years ago, the Villa Aurora was virtually inaccessible — chest-high weeds prevented would-be visiting scholars from even getting through the high entrance gate. Now, it's an easy walk up a twisting gravel path to lush green gardens dotted with Roman and Greek busts and a statue of the Greek god Pan attributed to Michelangelo.

At the top of the hill stands the 30,000 square foot Villa Aurora. Built in 1570, it's recently undergone some restoration.

"We started working on it little by little," says its current occupant, Princess Rita Boncompagni-Ludovisi. "We did the exterior and we did a new roof and we did so many different things that made it livable."

The princess is the widow of his Serene Highness Prince Nicolò Boncompagni-Ludovisi, who died in 2018. Born Rita Carpenter in Texas 72 years ago, she's had a colorful and wide-ranging life.

Once married to Representative John Jenrette of South Carolina — convicted in 1980 for accepting a bribe in the Abscam scandal — Rita Jenrette herself scandalized Washington: not only did she write about it in Playboy, she also posed for the magazine wearing a feather boa. She later worked as an actress and real estate broker — her biggest deal was selling the General Motors building to Donald Trump in 1998.

For the last 19 years, Princess Rita has dedicated herself to the Villa Aurora, raising revenue through private tours and making it accessible to scholars.

Read entire article at NPR