Villa d'Este

The noise, hustle and bustle and sheer number of tourists on the streets of Rome can be tiring and oppressive in the height of summer. Seeing the historic buildings of this stunning city can require much walking, leaving the visitor feeling jaded and in need of a temporary escape. The Villa d’Este is situated just 34 km from central Rome close to the town of Tivoli and is the perfect place to visit when the stresses of the capital have become too much.

 

The villa was the retreat of exiled Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, the son of Lucretia Borgia and is an impressive mansion in the Renaissance Mannerist style. The Villa was a 16th century remodelling of the original Governor’s palace on the site of a Benedictine monastery.  The building had at one time fallen into a state of dilapidation but has now been fully restored and has become a UNESCO world heritage site. For all the grandeur of the palace itself the real attraction is the famous and much imitated gardens which were voted the most beautiful gardens in Europe in 2007.

The Tivoli Gardens

Cardinal Ippolito was anxious to create a venue which would draw influential visitors from Rome. The resulting spectacular gardens were built into the steeply sloping landscape in front of the palace and required an enormous amount of excavation to construct the terraces on which they are built. The Tivoli gardens are notable not for their planting but for the number and scale of the water features throughout the landscaping. There are grottos, ponds, cascades and over 500 fountains constructed and driven using Roman hydraulic engineering techniques and fed by the diverted waters of the Aniene River. Today all but two of the fountains remain powered by gravity.

Entering the gardens is like stepping into an ethereal fantasy world with the calming sound of running water everywhere. Indeed the gardens inspired Franz Liszt to write the piano suite “Fountains of the Villa d’Este”. Around every corner the visitor will discover another unique and charming feature and there is a shabby chic and slightly informal feel to the place that makes a visit relaxing and peaceful. The water and the accompanying greenery are cooling in the heat of the summer as are the grottoes and shaded corners. Renaissance sculpture and quirky details abound as you walk around the gardens but visitors must remember to wear comfortable footwear as there are many steps to climb to experience the entire garden.

Visiting

Reaching the Tivoli area is straightforward from the centre of Rome. The town is just a 30 minute drive east of the city and a regular rail service reaches Tivoli from Rome’s Tiburtina station, the second largest in the city. Alternatively take the bus from outside of the Ponte Mammolo Metro station. This service runs every 15 minutes.