Gardens - 30 May

Gardens can be playful, intellectual, allegorical, bizarre and sometimes just darn purty. They even smell nice. Leaving Tivoli, we first went north to Caprarola and the gardens of Villa Farnese. The Villa itself is a pentagon, built upon 5 sided fortress foundations from the 1500's. Vignola designed the Villa and gardens as well as Villa Lante, the next stop on our trip.
Villa Farnese is an imposing edifice, looming over the town, but the interiors are surprising domestic in scale. We were forced to go along with a guide (he no english, we no italiano) and we kept pointing towards the garden, but he made us see all the rooms and then reluctantly let us outside, The two major gardens are rather severe and geometric, but a path leading through the woods up a hill beckoned us to something else. Our guard, er guide, chased after us, saying (I guess) that we couldn't go there, but there was a large group coming from that direction, so we pressed on. In the clearing beyond the woods was the magnificent Casino, a summerhouse with elaborate fountains and sculpture. It was worth incurring the wrath of the keeper of regulations.
Villa Lante in Bagnaia, also is embedded at the edge of a town, and the gardens go up a hill, is much gentler in its manner towards the town, and much more inviting as a series of garden spaces defined by pavilions, rather than gardens adjunct to a structure. Part of the surprise of Villa Lante is that there is no Villa, but two casinos on either side of a central axis. The entry garden is all low box hedges, almost like a front lawn, and then a series of terraces, water rills, fountains - much like Villa d'Este. The elevation change leads to constant reviewing of the garden from above and below, making what could seem like boring symmetry in plan become dynamic in the vertical ascent.

Going from the sublime to the bizarre, the final garden du jour was Bosco Sacro (Sacred Grove) , or Bosco dei Mostri (Monster's Grove). Pier Francesco Orsini commisioned the garden in the late 1500's after his wife died, and the purpose of this garden was to astonish. After his death, it was reclaimed by the grove and forgotten until the 1800's and only recently restored. The garden doesn't follow typical Renaissance layouts or imagery - it is more like a pathway through the woods with surprising sculptures and images springing forth around each bend. The overall feeling was like Angkor Wat, with mysterious colossal carved beings in a struggle with nature, doomed to lose in the end.