My sister and brother-in-law, who are keen gardeners, came to visit me in the last two weeks. They have been to Rome several times and were interested in seeing some of the gardens outside Rome, their first choice being Bomarzo Parco dei Mostri (Park of the Monsters). This is a weird and unusual garden filled with giant rocks carved into unusual and sometimes scary statues. The garden was commissioned by Prince Pier Francesco Orsini in 1552 whose castle is in the adjoining medieval town of Bomarzo. This became a passion of his after the death of his young wife Giulia Farnese (not the lover of Pope Alessandro VI, Roderigo Borgia, but a relative). Built in the Mannerist style which is to say a sort of 16th century Surrealism, it is not designed to please but to astonish. It was designed by Pirro Ligorio who also designed the gardens of the Villa D’Este at Tivoli. The statues are of monsters and mythical figures many with enigmatic captions written on them.
Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau amongst others found the statues fascinating and the gardens have been featured in movies and referred to in poems. Inside the Orcus above, there is a small stone table at which one could sit and have lunch. Supposedly, a whisper in this space can be heard on the steps. I didn’t know that when we were there so couldn’t check it out.
There is a small leaning house at one end of the garden which makes you feel quite dizzy when you go into it. Hard to know why the prince would have wanted such a thing as it is two stories high with several rooms all on an incline so you feel like you are going to fall.
At one of the spots close to the beginning of the garden is a small bench with an large inscription on the wall behind it which you can read below. I was so busy trying to decipher the text that I forgot to take a picture of the whole area but the text sort of gives an insight into the mind of the Prince. He was a ‘condottiere’ a warlord/mercenary who made his fortune travelling with various armies. Perhaps following the death of his best friend in a war, and then the sudden death of his wife soon after, he had no desire to travel but wanted his garden to reflect the diversity of the world.
I guess the prince must have come to terms with the grief for his wife as after about 20 years he had a beautiful temple constructed in her memory.
The garden fell into disrepair and was left abandoned until the 1950s when Angelica and Giovanni Bettini restored it. The temple was closed when we went there but we could see photographs of the Bettinis in niches in the wall so perhaps their remains have been placed there.
This was not the end of our adventure that day, but more about that in another post.