One of the first elements noticeable about Palazzo Te is the way it extends horizontally. With its square plan and large inner courtyard, the Palazzo recalls the country villas of antiquity, where the architecture and its setting are in constant interaction.
Unlike town palaces the most important rooms are on the ground floor, which is slightly raised to protect the villa in case of flooding from the river Mincio. The service quarters instead are on the upper floor. The external decoration and design of the façades derive from classical architecture.
Giulio Romano creates a single order punctuated by Doric pillars supporting an entablature with decorated metopes and string-course cornice. The metopes on the north side have a series of Gonzaga devices that do not appear on the other sides. Although the north and west façades are conceived as a single unit there are a few differences, such as the single arch on the west and the three arches on the north; however the apparent classical severity hides numerous examples of freedom and licence, probably caused by building complications brilliantly resolved by an inspired Giulio. Smooth ashlar work prevails on the surface although rustic work surrounds the basement, doors and windows and appears above the smooth podium.
The plaster work on the incomplete south façade, not open to the public, shows traces of architecture that was painted on during the eighteenth century. For more information about the east side, also altered during the eighteenth century, see the specific page.