The present day visitor to the Villa d’Este arrives at the top of the hill. A short walk through a series of cool, shady rooms brings you to a terrace with a panoramic view over the spectacular garden and surrounding countryside. The sixteenth century visitor arriving along the road from Rome would have started at the bottom of the hill. The gate in Via del Colle, just inside the medieval town walls, is no longer open to the public so for the sixteenth century experience you have to walk down through the garden to start again at the bottom.
The visitor is greeted by the sound of running water as soon as they step into the garden. Rills run beside paths and down staircases, water cascades through grottoes, bubbles from rocks and spouts from statues. As you climb through the garden more water features are revealed, some whimsical, some dramatic and some simply spectacular.
By the time the sixteenth century traveler reached the top of the hill they would have had no doubts about the power and wealth of the man they had come to visit, Cardinal Ippolitto II d’Este, but they might also have glimpsed some other indications of his character. This garden isn’t just about grandiose display but shows a love of ingenuity, a sense of beauty and even a sense of humour. The cardinal’s repeated failed attempts to become pope don’t seem to have blunted his taste for the good things in life.
At the top of the hill all is peace and serenity, at least till the next school party sweeps by.
(Click on any photo to view each gallery)
Largely created between 1550 and 1569 the garden of the Villa d’Este became the inspiration for countless Renaissance gardens around Europe. It’s now a UNESCO world heritage site managed by the Italian state. The Villa d’Este’s official website doesn’t have much background information but there’s a good account of the garden’s history, development and features on a Wikipedia page here.
Tivoli is an easy day out from Rome by public transport. The regional railways train from Roma Termini or Tiburtina currently costs 5.20€ return but it’s an excruciatingly slow 50 minute ride so take a good book or good company.