If you’re looking for a new home with less upkeep than a house or a luxury vacation rental, you may have come across the term villa in your research. But seeing how these properties can be defined in a wide range of ways, it may lead you to wonder, what is a villa?

Learn the historical origin of the term villa as well as the current interpretation so that you have a better understanding of what the term means in relation to your house or vacation-home search.

The history of villas

During the Roman empire, wealthy Romans often had a secondary house outside of the city on a large piece of property. These large, elegant homes were called villas and would undoubtedly be considered a mansion in today’s times.

A Roman villa could be one of two designs;

  • A villa urbana, which was fairly close to the city of Rome and could be accessed within a few days. It gave the elite an escape from the city but was not necessarily capable of being a fully functioning farm estate.
  • A villa rustica, which in today’s times would be more like a country estate. These villas were farther from Rome, still offering the same feel and amenities of a villa urbana but included farmland, livestock, and, typically, slaves to tend the fields for agricultural production.

The current usage of the term villa

Today, especially in the United States, a villa more often refers to a lower- or middle-income housing arrangement where the house shares a wall