Although the eccentricities of the immensely rich completely baffle me most of the time, I have to admit that their crazy creations leave me in awe, as much for the beauty of what they've left behind as for the absurdity of their antics. This again was the case when I saw Villa d'Este in Tivoli, just outside of Rome.
I hadn't really researched Villa d'Este and wasn't prepared for what I would see. Roman friends told me to go, "There are fountains and cool breezes." It's located in Tivoli, a hilltop city, outside of Rome. I was sold. A breeze and fresh air in Rome during late July is more impossible to find than sane kings and emperors.
Villa d'Este was developed by Cardinal Ippolito d'Este in 1550, son of the imfamous Lucrezia Borgia. As the story goes, Cardinal Ippolito became governer of Tipoli after a failed attempt at the papacy. To boost his wounded pride, he comissioned the Villa d'Este and its gardens. Using the nearby Villa Adriana (Emperor Hadrian's Villa) as inspiration, and designed by the architect Pirro Ligorio, the gardens tell the story of Tivoli and Rome and glorify the family d'Este, Ippolito's powerful family from Ferrara.
Whatever Ippolito's motives were, one thing is certain this cooky cardinal left us with spectacular lush gardens filled with trees and plants in every shade of greens and yellows. Even more spectacular are the fountains, many of them bursting high into the air like geysers. The garden is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and many of the beginning scenes from "Three Coins in a Fountain" are from this garden.
We spent an entire afternoon wandering through the terraced gardens, looking at the story of Tivoli and Rome told through sculpture, greenery and fountains. We cooled off next to the fountains' spray, and lingered as long as possible in the refreshing grottoes. Below are photos from our day of wandering the gardens of Villa d'Este.
Organ and Neptune Fountains - The Baroque Structure to the back of the terrace is the Organ Fountain. Created by the Frenchman Claude Venard the organ sounds are determined by the fall of water. To the front, is Neptune's Fountain. Around 1930, Attilo Rossi created this fountain by restoring Bernini's waterfall and adding the water jets.
Avenue of the Hundred Fountains - The 100 fountains is constructed on three levels. On each level runs waters that symbolize one of the rivers of Tivoli. The 100 shapes of lillies, obelisks, eagles and small boats fill the area, all connected to the Este family's coat of arms. The Avenue of the 100 Fountains joins the Oval Fountain to the Rometta Fountain.
The Oval Fountain (also the Fountain of Tivoli) - Representing the Tiburtine Mountains and falls, from which come the three rivers of Tivoli - the Aniene, Ercolaneo and Albuneo.
The Rometta Fountain - "Little Rome" fountain complex represents the eternal city. Miniature buildings representing ancient Roman landmarks (some have been demolished) surround the area. At the center of "little Rome" is the godess of Rome, the she-wolf with Romulus and Remus, and the boat representing the Island Tibertina - the place of the first Roman inhabitants.
The Dragon's Fountain - Representing the 11th feat of Hercules, who killed the hundred-heads dragon, the fountain has four winged dragons spitting water into the pool. A jet of water in the center varies its water expulsion to sometimes sound like a cannon and, other times, like gun fire.
The Gardens and Fishpond -
Getting there by train - Take the train on the Rome-Pescara line and get off at Stazione Tivoli. From there you can catch a bus to the city center or walk.
Getting there by Metro & Bus - Take Metro Line B (the red line) in the direction of Rebibbia, exit at Ponte Mammolo. From there catch the Blue Cotral Bus to Tivoli. To purchase the tickets, go downstairs first, then back up to catch the bus. The screens will tell you the schedule and which platform to go to to pick up the bus. It's about a 50 minute ride to Tivoli. The bus will stop at the Tivoli's main square, and from there it is a short walk. This is the way we went to Tivoli.