Our Italian escapade… visiting Villa d’Este at Tivoli, part 1…

If you have never been to Villa d’Este at Tivoli… then this is one itinerary that you definitely have to include when planning a trip to Rome. It is not in Rome itself… but you can easily go and visit Villa d’Este by taking the public transport from Rome. It definitely is cheaper doing it this way than joining an organised tour… and the travel journey by metro and bus only takes about an hour. We unfortunately took slightly longer… because we overshot the bus journey and therefore had to make our way back on foot down the road towards Villa d’Este. 🙂

How to get there from Rome by public transport? Well… you can either take a train and stop at Stazione Tivoli… or… you can take the metro to Stazione Ponte Mammolo (along line B) and from there change to a bus which will take you to Tivoli, where Villa d’Este is located, as we did. The cost doing it our way…? €1 for the metro ride and €2 for the bus ride… (times 2 if you are not staying the night in Tivoli lah!). Quite cheap, no?

To get your money’s worth out of the entrance fee to enter Villa d’Este, it might be a good idea to stay the whole day there. But really… it is no hardship to spend one whole day there because… besides the beautiful gardens of Villa d’Este (sometimes referred to as Tivoli gardens)… the Villa itself is worth exploring as it contains many beautiful paintings.

We spent nearly one whole day at the Villa and would definitely have stayed longer if we could. Unfortunately, we had made plans to meet up with my friend for dinner in Rome and since we were also leaving for Siena the following morning… we decided to go back to Rome earlier than we would have liked to… so that we could do a bit more sightseeing in Rome that day.

But the time we spent at Villa d’Este (especially the gardens for me… but more of the paintings for the hubby) was one of the more memorable moments of our trip to Italy. The Villa d’Este was added to the list of World Heritage Sites in 2001 because of the influence this site has had on European garden design.

So… I hope you will enjoy looking at the photos of the beautiful gardens and the palace of Villa d’Este… as much the hubby and I enjoyed our time there… (don’t forget that you can click on the photos if you want to see them in a bigger format…or roll over them with the cursor to display related info ;-))

As we had missed the correct bus stop (better ask the locals on the bus exactly where to get off if you do not like walking)… we ended up having to walk from as far back as Via Empolitana to the Villa, i.e. for about 20-25 minutes. But it was a nice walk through the little town… so… should you miss the stop as we did… just enjoy the walk down towards the Villa lah!  🙂

There are signs to show you the direction the nearer you get to Villa d’Este.

And there is also this imposing fortress nearby.. a landmark which is difficult to miss. You only have to go round it to find yourself back on the right track. It was named Rocca Pia after Pope Pius II, who had the fortress built in 1461 to secure allegiance of Tivoli to the Papal state. The smaller towers are later additions.

A few minutes after passing round the fortress  above, we reached a big square, called Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, which can be seen quite clearly from the bus (and is easily recognisable thanks to the modern sculpture placed almost smack in the middle). The bus stop is near this square… and so is the Villa …so you had better look out for it if you are coming by public bus (as we did) and do not want to walk ….

Getting closer to the Villa (left) and then approaching the entrance to the Villa d’Este (right), located at Piazza Trento.

The beautiful palace courtyard after passing through the entrance gate… with fruit bearing lemon plants placed all around the top of the portico… and throughout the gardens.

The structure on the left flanked by two pairs of columns on each side is in fact a fountain dedicated to Venus, traditionally known as the goddess of love. However, at Villa d’Este Venus is mostly associated with nature (as was the case at Pompei) and with the Venus generatrix figure (mother of Aenas, the legendary ancestor of the Romans). The bell tower (campanile in Italian) above belongs to the church of Santa Maria Maggiore.

You can either choose to walk through the various rooms in the Villa first or head straight to the gardens below. We decided to do the gardens first… as my friend had to leave earlier for his appointment in Rome. But it was easy to be distracted by the paintings that you see on the walls as you pass through the main hall to go into the gardens below.

The double loggia (inspired by one of Michelangelo’s architectural works) of the Villa leading to the world famous gardens of Tivoli. As soon as you come out of the second floor loggia (the part below contains the Leda grotto)…

…I am sure that the first word that will come out of your mouth is… oh wow… oh là là… wa lau eh… wah… or whatever form and language of exclamations that is familiar to you 🙂

The view of parts of the gardens that can be seen from the second floor loggia and the surrounding countryside is really beautiful! So much so, that many commentators claim that the gardens should not be treated as a space closed within itself (Villa d’Este covers a surface of about 4 hectares) but rather that they were intended to be seen and enjoyed in connection with the surrounding Tiburtine landscape (the Romans called the region Tibur).

This one is a favourite shot of mine… thanks to the beautiful weather that day… even though it was hot!

The hubby and my friend making their way down the stairs to the gardens. Because it is situated on the edge of a hill, the first section of the gardens slope downwards. So… best to take your time walking around the gardens… especially when making your way back up! 🙂

To the left of the staircase is the fountain called Rometta Fountain … with the small buildings (7 of them – a reference to Rome’s 7 hills) on the far right designed to provide an impressive brick and stucco model of antique Rome as seen from the Trastevere (David Dernie, The Villa d’Este at Tivoli, 1996, p.90) …  

… which has a boat on one side and is full of  allegorical figures… for instance, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus (who according to the legend founded Rome), alleged to have been suckled by a wolf after they had been abandoned by their mother (a priestess supposed to remain virgin).

The Rometta Fountain promontory as seen from the terrace where we had our lunch. As you will read below, the view from this part of the gardens would extend as far out as Rome. Hence the association of this fountain with numerous Roman symbols or allegorical figures.

And on the other side of the staircase… are these terraced fountains (on three levels), called the ‘Hundred Fountains’ ….

… with different animal faces spouting water at the bottom level.

The same rows of fountains (part of the ‘Hundred Fountains’) as seen from the other end… just before we enter another area with another fountain.

Equally beautiful, no? This is the Tivoli Fountain (also known as the Oval Fountain). Check out the beautiful tiles that are used along the low wall that surround the fountain.

The designs on the tile (fleurs-de-lys and eagles) …are also found on the plant pots and other decorative items placed throughout the garden and villa.  They are the emblems of the cardinal who commissioned the palace and gardens, Ippolito II d’Este (son of Lucrezia Borgia and nephew of Pope Alexander VI) of Ferrara. By the way, the gardens were built from 1550 to 1572 mostly under the plans/supervision of Pirro Ligorio,  a painter-architect-archaeologist who had conducted archaeological work in the area and who appears to have made heavy use of allusions to the deities worshipped nearby under the Romans: Hercules, Juno, Jupiter, Diana, Mars, Neptune, Venus, the Sibyl, etc.

From there… we proceeded next to the main and, I think, the most beautiful fountains in the Villa d’Este. These are made up of separate fountains… the Fountain of Neptune in the foreground, the Sibyl grottoes with the Bernini cascade behind, the 20th century water jets and the Organ Fountain (or Water Organ) in the background.

They really look magnificent… and since the fountains are spread over a few levels, they appeared huge!! Notice the eagle on the top of the building – there must be literally hundreds of them represented all over the Villa and gardens.

The pools or ponds spread in front of the beautiful fountains. There are 3 of them spread on different levels. And they are not empty by the way…

… but filled with fishes.

The pools against the backdrop of the fountains… very pretty, is it not?

A few metres away from the pools is a wall that marked the end of the garden…

…with this tower to the left side of the wall, the so-called Tower of Barbarossa. It is part of the structure that supports the central garden, dating back to the Middle Ages (1155).

The sweeping view from the edge of the garden wall, a little further along from the Rometta Fountain.  The view is almost unspoilt – however, we were unable to check whether the following claim made by the Italian author Giovanni Maria Zappi in 1576 still holds more than 400 hundred years later:   “You will command a view of the whole city, with gardens, olive orchards, mountains, see as far as Ostia, thirty miles away […] in my opinion this is by far the most beautiful view in the world and, moreover, early in the morning, when the air is clear, you can see the city of Rome with the fabric of St. Peter’s“. (Source: Unesco World Heritage submission proposal)

And then there are these two meta sudans… placed within the gardens designed like a labyrinth… which somehow reminded me of a huge anthill!

Statue of Diana of Ephesus, a goddess also associated with nature,… at one side of the labyrinth garden…with water spouting from her many breasts. The statue was originally located at the Water Organ (or Organ Fountain).

Another statue in a small grotto within the labyrinth garden.

Tall cypress trees (two of which date back to the 17th century) form part of the labyrinth garden.

After we had seen all that we could see at the bottom most part of the gardens…

… we then made our way back up … trying to avoid the water from the sprinklers while we did so (… it was a very hot day so the plants really need it… as did we :-)) …

… to the terrace where we could have a different view of the same row of twelve water jets of the Organ Fountain (added in 1927 and designed to ‘bring to mind the hydraulic organ’, i.e. a water and air based musical instrument – there were three of them at Villa d’Este!)… this time from the top!

And also of the three pools or fish ponds that we had seen from below…

… and the pools as they are seen through the spray of water from the fountains.

The view at the end of the garden wall (on the left) with the plain stretching as far out as Rome … and another smaller fountain to the left of the pools, called the Fountain of the Dragons.

There are also small grottoes nearby…

… which provided a cool respite (it felt like being in an air-conditioned room) from the hot weather outside. And inside two of them (there are 3 in all)…

… there are fountains, too. Since the sound of the water is contained within the hollowed walls and ceiling… you will have to raise your voice if you want to have a conversation inside them. 🙂

The proposal for inclusion of the site into Unesco’s World Heritage List states that  at Villa d’Este, water plays a fundamental role, and never before had such an astounding number of fountains, grottoes and Jeux d’eau (jets of water) been so concentrated in a single complex.’ After having seen all these photographs of Villa d’Este, we trust this is a statement you will be willing to take at its face value, no?  😉

We decided to have lunch within Villa d’Este not long after this… before starting our inventory of the paintings in the palace. But… since there is already plenty of photos of the gardens that I share here, I’ll save the rest on the Villa for the next post. It’s tedious work formatting and uploading photos lah!

Other entries part of ‘our Italian escapade’:


One thought on “Our Italian escapade… visiting Villa d’Este at Tivoli, part 1…

  1. Pingback: Why add another blog to the millions already around? « paulzan

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