Dream trip to Bomarzo, a fantastic Italian garden – World Meanderings (n°82)
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
This incredible garden was created in the middle of the 16th century for Prince Vicino Orsini, It’s located in a remote area 57 miles north of Roma in the Lazio province. Also called “Sacred Grove” or “Park of the Monsters”, this garden was designed by a famous architect of the time, Pirro Ligorio and it took over twenty years to complete it. Like Sleeping Beauty’s kingdom it fell asleep and after Prince Orsini’s death it sank into oblivion for a long, long time. It was not until Salvador Dali fell under its spell in 1948 that it was saved from neglect after centuries during which nature had taken back its rights.
Thinking about it, it’s completely self-evident that a surrealist artist as outstanding as Dali, fell in love with this eccentric garden. If Renaissance mainly rhymes with marble statues by Michelangelo, Verrocchio or Donatello in Bomarzo garden we discover a totally different aspect of this rich artistic period. Here the stone statues representing oversized human figures, mythical characters or exotic animals come straight from a world of unfettered imagination, absolutely unheard of before.
The fact that there are no original written records about its conception and construction only adds to this mystery and we actually know very little about the history of its creation or how to interpret the sculptures and the texts engraved on the stones. We still have no clue about it all and specialists still argue about all this. As we have no clear explanations about the creators’ intentions the best way to visit the garden is to wander about and let our own imaginations roam and build our personal story.
In 1870 the Bettini family bought the estate that included the Bomarzo garden. Later in 1954 Giovani Bettini and his wife Tina Severi undertook huge works of clearing and renovations. The 30 buildings and statues that have been sculpted directly into big volcanic rocks have been completely restored. These rocks are made of grey-brown peperino. This material is made of hard pieces of stone included in consolidated volcanic ash ejected during a volcanic eruption. Born from the fury of the Earth it seems to be the perfect substance to create the spooky statues of Bomarzo!
Will you come out safe and sound from your visit? Weird, horrific, enchanting, dreadful, fun… There is a long list of qualifiers to describe this “Park of the Monsters” and no one can remain indifferent when visiting Bomarzo garden, children love it and grown-up rediscover the pleasures of being mystified!
You will meet a giant that could be Hercules, shredding a shepherd, a turtle carrying a winged goddess playing a trumpet, a monstrous whale with its jaws wide open, ready to swallow a careless visitor, an imposing siren with two tails, a harpy with lion legs and a fish tail, a dragon attacked by a lion and a lioness, one of Hannibal’s elephants catching a Roman legionary with its trunk, a curious leaning house carved from a single piece of rock, a big ogre’s head with its mouth wide open on whose upper lip it is engraved “All Thoughts Fly”, but inside there just is a picnic table! Several more bizarre sculptures will complete your tour of this garden of wonders.
Before leaving the garden stop at the small coffeehouse in order to slowly come back to reality. Have a macchiato or an espresso while enjoying the view over the garden sitting in one of the comfortable sofas waiting for you on the outside terrace. This garden still is a mystery to us, but in our unsurprising rational world it feels good to know that such a place still exists.
More information at www.sacrobosco.it/eng/enter.php
And more info about Italy at www.enit.it
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny