Located near the left bank of the Po di Volano, Villa Mensa is one of the surviving monuments that were originally part of the property of the Episcopal See of Ferrara, hence the traditional name “Mensa” (Bishop’s Land Revenue Office). It was probably built in the first decade of the 1300s and heavily modified during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but the building still has many fifteenth century characteristics, notable mainly in architectural forms and the different structural and ornamental details.
Although it had never been part of the assets managed directly by the House of Este, Villa Mensa can be associated to the ducal court through events related to the illustrious visitors who used it as a residence for rest and recreational activities, above all during the spring and summer seasons, when improved river navigation on the nearby Po di Volano favoured the movement of people and commodities.
It was especially the bishops of the Este dynasty who transformed the site by means of major agricultural and architectural redevelopment, making it a centre for the economic and administrative co-ordination of the vast surrounding land which was divided into farmlands that yielded considerable incomes to the bishopric of Ferrara.
Under the administration of Bishop Bartolomeo Della Rovere (1474-1494) the original building was significantly extended, with the construction of a portico on the ground floor and a “great hall” on the first floor. It was Cardinal Ippolito I d’Este who was responsible for the involvement of Biagio Rossetti, who was called to the Villa Mensa site during the summer of 1513.
Between 1559 and 1562 the building underwent continuous internal improvements commissioned by Cardinal Luigi d’Este. During Giovanni Fontana’s term as bishop (1590–1611), the rooms of the palace were further expanded.
With the seizure of Ferrara by the Holy See in 1598, the Villa lost the role as the centre of political and cultural life during the Este family rule.In 1868 ownership passed to the State and in 1878 to Count Scroffa of Ferrara. Ten years later the Navarra brothers became proprietors, and the villa was included in the properties of the “Agricultural Foundation” which still bears their name.
Radical internal alterations were made In the 1940s in order to transform the villa into an orphanage; following this it housed about thirty tenant farming families who partitioned the building, transforming both its form and appearance.
The recent acquisition (2003) by Copparo Council and the Province of Ferrara has allowed further restoration and consolidation work to be carried out.