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GARDENS OF THE WORLD: Gardens Around Rome

By Frank Mitzel.

This is the last installment of the Gardens of Italy series. The previous four articles in this series are Gardens of Northern Italy Near Lake Como, Gardens of Northern Italy Near Venice, and Gardens Around Florence, and Gardens Around Pisa.

Traveling south along the west coast from Pisa and Lucca, we continue our tour of Italian gardens in the area around Rome. The first three gardens worth mentioning will take the better part of the day to visit.

Villa d'Este, Villa Aldobrandini, and Giardini della Landriana

Villa d'Este ca. 1560 to 1575.

The first garden to the east of Rome is the incredible Villa d'Este, Tivoli, famous for its amazing water features and Renaissance garden. A slope with a main central axis with several cross axes joins stairways and ramps, so that the visitor sees a dizzying array of fountains, grottoes, niches, and statues. The entire garden is filled with delightful sparkling water displays, including the famous Fountain of the Organ, and the Hundred Fountains.

The second garden, located about thirteen miles due southwest of Rome, is Villa Aldobrandini, in Frascati. This is a fantastic late Renaissance villa that features the Teatro delle Acque, where one can see Hesperidian nymphs, Atlas bearing the world in the central niche, the nymphaeum, and the Room of Winds. At the top of the garden slope is the entrance to a small grotto carved as a monstrous face.

The third garden is the farthest from Rome, at about thirty miles. Giardini della Landriana is a varied collection of thirty-two separate compartmentalized plantings of formal and informal styles within a total of twenty-five acres. You'll find elaborate English and tailored Italian-style gardens, including a rose garden, shaded hosta garden, topiary, and olive garden. Be prepared to do a lot of walking and take plenty of photos to enjoy this amazing garden.

A Day Trip: Gardens North of Rome

Continuing our tour from Rome, north of the city around the town of Viterbo are four wonderful gardens worth an entire day trip to visit.

The first is one of my all-time favorite gardens in Italy: Villa Lante located in Bagnaia, just east of Viterbo. The creation of this incredible Renaissance garden began in 1568 by the architect Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola for Cardinal Gian Francesco De Gambara. Two small twin palaces flank the property with multi-level fountain terraces and garden parterres laid out in a very symmetrical geometric fashion. Eighteen square compartments divided by a main axis comprise the lowest level with four main pools with bridges leading to the Fountain of the Moors in the center.

The second garden terrace at Villa Lante is dominated by a fountain called Fontana delle Lucerne, which has 160 jets spraying water from small cups. The third and fourth terraces continue the water fountain theme decorated with swans, dolphins, statues of various gods, urns, eagles, harpies, and a long runnel shaped as an elongated crayfish-the symbol of Cardinal Gambara. Throughout the garden is a mixture of clipped boxwood, hydrangeas, camellias, and mature plane trees.

Sacro Bosco's sculpture of Orcus. Image courtesy of Alessio Damato.

The next garden on this leg of the trip is unique in every way. Sacro Bosco (Sacred Wood) is located off the beaten path another six miles east of Viterbo. The park, sometimes called the Villa of Marvels or Park of Monsters, is situated on rocky ground with few trees, perfect for the amazing stone outcroppings of giant mythological grotesque beasts of this 16th-century sculpture garden. Here you'll find sculptures carved in the stone hillsides, including: elephants, a giant fish mouth, a dragon being attacked by lions, a Pegasus fountain, and Fortuna riding a turtle. One sculpture of Orcus, the god of the underworld, has a built-in bench and table, which likely caused unease to those who dined in the gruesome mouth. This is really one of the most unusual and whimsical gardens in all the world!

Villa Farnese, also known as Villa Caprarola, is the third garden near Viterbo. Caprarola is a masterpiece of Italian garden art with two large square gardens divided into four compartments surrounded by tall evergreen hedges. Passing under mature pines, beech, ilex, and chestnut trees, one is led to Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola's Casina del Piacere (Lodge of Pleasures) with a series of fountains and stepped ramps guiding you to the second terrace with the Fountain of Rivers. Up two flights of steps is the Fontana dei Fiumi with twenty-eight statues supporting vases. This garden is one of the best overall in terms of interesting garden features.

Castello Ruspoli's formal, classic Italian garden.

Lastly, Castello Ruspoli is a 16th-century formal boxwood parterre garden framed by evergreen oaks and surrounded by clipped bay hedges. The rectilinear design of planting beds, pathways, fountains, and allees make for a most inviting classical Italian design.

Next, we will leave Italy and continue our Gardens of the World series across the border into France.

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