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Historic Gardens

Sacred Wood of Bomarzo .. Sojourn in Italy

BOMARZO: 16th century landscape populated by strangely compelling creatures, gods & goddesses carved in stone.

Bomarzo: Sleeping Beauty Photo © Alice Joyce

Designed by the architect, Pirro Ligorio, the Sacred Wood of Bomazo is a marvelous Mannerist landscape in the province of Viterbo, in Italy’s Lazio region, north of Rome.

Bomarzo: Neptune Photo © Alice Joyce

The terrain of Bomarzo or Parco dei Mostri (Park of the Monsters) is a well-worn parkland today:  the price of admission yields a faded copy of a map. Yet, after having been abandoned for hundred of years, the 16th century estate of Prince Pier Francesco Orsini – called ‘Vicino’ – is open to the public to be experienced once more.

Imagine the astounding undertaking Orsini entered into when creating the setting, and you’ll be swept away by the Prince’s dramatic intent, unfolding along intricate, convoluted pathways: A theme that effectively rejected the dominant geometric formality common to gardens of the period.

At the entrance to the woodland, an invitation is etched: “You who go wandering about the world in search of sublime and awesome wonders, come here where horrendous faces, elephants, lions, bears, ogres and dragons are to be seen.”

Bomarzo ..  ‘Giants Do Battle’ – Hercules Photo: Copyright Alice Joyce

In Visions of Arcadia (Aurum, 1996), author, May Woods reflects on the playful character of one of Bomarzo’s stone beasts. The representation of a dragon with the wings of a butterfly. Woods suggests the depiction rests not in the creature’s diabolical nature, but rather in the role of protector, ensuring the purity of the fountain’s water.

Visions of Arcadia

Bomarzo Ogre /Stairway Photo © Alice Joyce

Huge in size and impact, the landscape’s much photographed Ogre, albeit engaged in an apparent scream, houses a table where you can enjoy a picnic.

Bomarzo – Photo © Alice Joyce

In the exoticism of the garden plan, Orsini presented an alluring challenge to his aristocratic guests – artists, poets, and intelligentsia of the day, to decode the symbolism, the iconography of mermaids, gods and monsters, populating the extravagantly theatrical setting.

Elephant Photo Copyright © Alice Joyce
Mask of Madness Photo Copyright Alice Joyce

An elephant about to kill a warrior;  a mythological Orc carrying a globe of the world, topped by a model of the Orsini castle:

Melancholic or humorous?

Horrific or strangely compelling?

At the culminating point in one’s journey through the Prince’s gardens, you come upon a building of subtle beauty, The Temple of Divine Love; built in memory of Orsini’s wife by renowned architect, Vignola.

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