ONE of the most famous and influential Renaissance gardens in Europe, the dramatic, axial design has been copied and re-interpreted since it was begun in the mid-sixteenth century. Less than 30 minutes drive from Rome in Tivoli, the Villa d'Este is close to the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s great complex of villa and gardens. Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este built his new country house when he was appointed governor of Tivoli by Pope Julius III in 1550. For more than 20 years, the villa was slowly constructed and the spectacular terraced garden created on the steeply sloping site.
Painter and architect Pirro Ligorio designed the villa and planned the garden with it’s long axial views down sloping paths lined with statues and fountains. Bringing water to the difficult site was a feat of brilliant engineering - remarkably the same system is still in use today for the garden’s cascades, troughs, pools and water jets. Hadrian’s villa was a source not only of marble to build the new villa but of study and inspiration. Roman techniques of hydraulic engineering were revived to supply the water and create Cardinal d’Este’s garden. Many of the statues were taken from Hadrian's villa to decorate the new fountains and grottoes.
As one of the most skilled hydraulic engineers of the 16th century, Tommasso Chiruchi was employed to help layout the gardens. He worked with Claude Venard, a French manufacturer of organs, to create the enormous musical fountain that is the centrepiece of the garden's design. The next major
program of new designs for the garden was carried out in1605 by Cardinal Alessandro d'Este. He restored and repaired the waterworks and established an innovative new layout of the garden and decoration of the fountains.
Today the Mannerist design of the garden is much as it was in the late16th century. The main axis of the garden falls away in a series of terraces, starting from Pirro Ligorio's Grand Loggia dominating the villa’s garden front with soaring triumphal arches. The central axis of stone paths and box-hedges has more then 500 jets of water shooting up from fountains and pools. Water is supplied by the local Aniene River and from a spring supplying a cistern under the villa’s courtyard.
A balustraded balcony on the villa's uppermost terrace has sweeping views out across the plains to Rome. Double flights of stairs flank the central axis and lead down to the next garden terrace designed with a Grotto of Diana decorated with frescoes and mosaics. The Fountain of the Great Cup - said to be by Bernini - has water flowing from natural-looking rocks into a scrolling, shell-like cup.
The terrace below has an elaborate fountain called the Rometta or Little Rome. From here it's possible to see the Hundred Fountains, made up of dozens of water jets. Ligorio’s nymphaeum, the Fontana dell’Ovato, has cascades of water and marble nymphs created by Giambattista della Porta. Paths lead through the garden to a wooded slope and three quiet, reflective fishponds and to the dramatic water organ and Fountain of Neptune.
By the 18th century, the gardens were abandoned and left to decay, including the waterworks and statues that began to fall into ruin. Cardinal Gustav von Hohelohe took over the villa from the Dukes of Modena in 1851 and began restoring the villa and gardens between 1867 and 1882 . He created a cultural epicentre at the villa and invited poets and musicians such as Franz Liszt who composed the Giochi d’Acqua for piano.
By the early 20th century, the Villa d'Este was taken over by the Italian state after World War I and was restored and opened to the public in the 1920s. Another substantial phase of restoration was completed after the villa was bombed during the Second World War. The restoration continues today with the giant Fountain of Neptune and the Organ Fountain recently brought back to their 16th century glory.
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One of the three reflective pools that offer a cooling place to sit in the gardens during the heat of summer
Looking up towards Pirro Ligorio's Great Loggia and the garden front of Villa d'Este
The Fountain of Neptune with it's 16th century French organ that plays music with jets of water following the score.
Looking out across the town Tivoli from Villa d'Este to the surrounding hills
The Grand Loggia overlooking the gardens by Pirro Ligorio designed for Cardinal d'Este
The Neptune and Organ fountains with dramatic plays of water jets and cascades
One of the jets spouting water from the Hundred Fountains
The Rometta or Little Rome Fountain with it's fountain representing the Isola Tiburina and the symbol of the city: the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus
The symbol of Rome: Romulus and Remus and the she-wolf
Looking up to the Grand Loggia where Cardinal d'Este dined with his guests in summer overlooking the Little Rome Fountain ~ created because there were no views to the city.
The Sweating Fountain in the background was based on ruins from a fountain built by the Emperor Domitian