Posts Tagged ‘Villa d’Este’

It’s showtime!

Villa d'Este - Irises
Irises from the Villa d’Este


As of 16h30 this afternoon, the site presentation I’ve been stressing out over all week was over! Done, finished, kaput – the best feeling in the world. The whole thing ended up taking almost three hours – including my formal presentation and discussion, and an hour for everyone to roam (pun intended) around the garden. The weather was surprisingly pleasant – maybe a little on the humid side, but in general, it was dry, sunny but breezy. Discussion was a little sad, but more than anything I think that was a result of the circumstance: we had been traveling since 8h15 this morning, spending the morning at Hadrian’s Villa (for Denver’s awesome presentation on the Maritime Theater and the logic behind Hadrian’s massive design). The Maritime Theater is a really interesting space – said to be Hadrian’s private retreat and, amongst other interpretations, the symbolic and physical nucleus of the sprawling villa. McEwen argues for a strong connection to the structure and design of the Pantheon (this involved literally hundreds of measurements and comparisons between the two and some um, creative extrapolation) which, in another article, she connects to the composition of a rhetorical argument and the ancient art of oration. Here, too, McEwen relates the architecture to rhetoric, arguing that the villa as a whole but, most particularly the Maritime Theater, was a memory palace for Hadrian. For those of you unfamiliar with the ancient arts of memory, the Palace was one particular technique for remembering a speech or different ideas. The concept is that you would imagine a great palace and assign different ideas to the furnishings, architecture, curios, etc. and then, when you wanted to remember a speech, say, you would walk through the palace (or room) and the visualization would trigger a strong memory response.

In any case, the Maritime Theater is one of the least-understood spaces at the villa. The concentric-circle form is very uncommon and it’s pretty quirky: there is an inner disk of land, surrounded entirely by a moat (which was more of a reflecting pool, but stocked with really scary fish – I SAW THEM) then an outer rim of land, enclosed by walls. Now here’s the fun thing – Hadrian specifically designed the inner disk and its small temple-like structure to be a private retreat and, as such, made the bridges removable. When he wanted to have some alone time, he would go out with a servant and then pick up the wooden bridge and keep it with him on the island. Cool, right?

Anyway, we walked around for a few hours to see the rest of the Villa which includes baths, the Canopus and Serapeum (pool and grotto – probably the most famous/iconic structures), the hospital, Greek theater, and Temple of Venus. Somewhere in there, we also had an informal picnic (by “somewhere” I mean in the dirt at the Temple of Venus) before driving into Tivoli proper to the Villa d’Este for my presentation.

We arrived at the villa around 13h30 and I jumped into my presentation, in the courtyard before slowly wandering through the villa itself and the hall of frescoes to kill a little bit of time. Leading the group down to the Rometta fountain, I got into more of the meat of my discussion, raising issues of the period (most notably, the influence of the Counter Reformation) and introducing what I feel to be the most influential factor: humanism and the resulting interest in antiquities. Finishing this section, we were just in time for the Water Organ performance at 14h30 which, while brief, was unbelievably cool and a new experience for both the group and myself. From this point, we walked down to the Porta Romana (the original entrance to the property) to introduce the element of spatial experience and design and its prominent role in the garden. At this point, we turned everyone loose to explore the garden for an hour before reconvening at the loggia for ice cream (mmm magnum bars…) and a final discussion based on the group’s on-site experience. We finished up just in time to meet our bus driver at 16h30 and make the hour-long journey back to Rome.

Hadrian's Villa, Maritime Theater, Villa Adriana, Tivoli, Italy, Italia
Hadrian’s Villa – Maritime Theater

Hadrian's Villa - Maritime Theater
Hadrian’s Villa – Maritime Theater

Hadrian's Villa, Baths
Hadrian’s Villa – Baths

Hadrian’s Villa – the Canopus and Serapeum (pool and grotto, respectively)

Hadrian's Villa, Mars, Canopus, Sculpture
Sculpture of Mars at the Canopus

Villa d'Este - Gate
One of the subsidiary gates to the lower gardens of the Villa d’Este


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Villa d'Este - Le Cento Fontane
Le Cento Fontane (Avenue of 100 Fountains) at Villa d’Este

So… tired…

Kit and I met up at 9h00 this morning to head out to Tivoli, a small town 40km from Rome
This required catching the autobus 87 from Largo (di Torre) Argentina to the Colosseum, taking the Metro linea B to Tiburtina, and then a treno regionale for an hour and a half out to Tivoli. It was kind of ridiculous. So, at 11h30 we finally roll into the station – a teeny little building, two tracks, and one platform – which you have to traverse (by way of plywood planks between the gaps) to navigate between the platform and the station.

We head out of the station and immediately see signs for Villa d’Este (our destination) and also Villa Gregoriana, pointing the same direction. We get to a roundabout and, of course, the signs are conspicuously absent, so we walk over to a picturesque little lookout and voila, the Villa Gregoriana.

Now, “villa” is a loosely applied term. For €5 you are granted access to a beautiful park-space (in the style of well-preserved wildlife parks in the states, sans wildlife) with defined trails leading between different sublime (in the 19th century sense of the word) panoramas and picturesque locations. One particular element is the Grand Cascade (Aniene Falls) which drops 120m, diverting water from Aniene to the valley below. The Villa pivots around the Aniene Falls, part of an artificial diversion of the river constructed in 1835 at the behest of Pope Gregory XVI in response to the devastating flood of 1826. While the falls are lovely, the route to reach the lookout necessitates 95 steep, travertine stairs down, and the breath-taking (in the unpleasant, impending pulmonary embolism sort of way) 95-steps back up to the main trail. We did it – and it was lovely.

Other features include the Bernini Cascade – and no, it’s not what you’re thinking. Literally, Bernini constructed an early subterranean canal between the Aniene and the Valley of Hell (the valley upon which villa Gregoriana is perched) which culminates in a cascade – thus, the Bernini cascade! Anti-climactic, I know.

There are close to a dozen waterfalls, mostly natural, which funnel water down into the valley to join the small lake (and river) at the base of the Aniene falls. Around these cascades are natural caverns, formed by water rushing through the porous tufa stone, creating really cool looking formations and interesting passages of water. Two of these caverns were named in the 19th century by Romantic (French) poets: the Mermaid Grotto and Neptune’s Grotto, both worth seeing, but unfortunately, no mermaids.

The problem with Villa Gregoriana is this: once you hike your way down to the Mermaid Grotto, you’re feeling alright – perhaps you’re a little tired, but there’s tons to see and the air is nicely cooled by the mist from the grotto. Unfortunately, you look up and realize that you are at the bottom of the Valley of Hell and must make your way back up to the top – either back the way you came, or up towards the temple ruins and the gift shop. Half way up, you reach the Grotto of Neptune and are refreshed, but the last third of the trek, the pathway now consisting of eroded tufa instead of dirt, you stop wondering why they call it the Valley of Hell.

We finally made it to the top, passed through the irritatingly air conditioned bookshop and wandered our way back to the main road. The signs direct you to the uscita (exit) through this little alley, but that’s it – one sign, taped to a building, and you’re on your own. We make it back, cross the small stone bridge spanning the valley and find ourselves back at the unmarked roundabout. Heading in the only other possible direction, we walk for another 15 minutes (uphill, on a two-lane road, with no sidewalk) before reaching another roundabout with a distinct lack of signage. We guessed correctly, as it were, and after another 10 minutes of uncertain wandering, we found a sun-bleached sign that indicated that the Villa d’Este was to our right. 10 more minutes and we arrived – along with every other tourist in Lazio. Seriously. (Okay, maybe not). You see, today kicked off settimana della cultura – Italian culture week – which, in addition to hosting a ton of cool events, provided free entrance into state-run museums, archeological sites, etc. So, in addition to ourselves, there were a half-dozen senior citizen groups, a dozen or so different school groups (kids between ages 8-18 running about bored) and dozens upon dozens of tourists. Yikes – but so worth it.

Now, as many of you know, this is one of the principal sites I’ve been dealing with in my research. My honors thesis relates three gardens – the Villa Giulia in Rome, Villa Farnese in Caprarola and Villa d’Este in Tivoli – to both each other and the larger picture of garden design and aesthetic theory in the late Renaissance. All three villas were constructed circa 1550 and are all near Rome (Caprarola is a little under 70km northwest of Rome and Tivoli, 40km east) but each embody different aspects of Renaissance, and particularly Mannerist, ideologies concerning aesthetics, architecture and the role of the villa. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to see the garden in person, and I was not disappointed. Admittedly, the Fountain of the Pegasus was under construction, and the Fountain of the Tivoli (also known as the Fontana dell’Ovata) was drained due to hydraulic problems, and most of the catena d’acqua were fountains were not running, it was still unbelievably cool.

We meandered around the property for almost four hours before heading back, realizing a much more direct path back to the train station, and arriving just in time to catch the 16h26 train back to Rome – fortunate because the next – and last – train back to the city didn’t leave until almost 18h00. On the upside, transportation is cheap – €3 for the bus rides to and from the metro station and the metro rides to and from Tiburtina, then only €4.60 roundtrip to Tivoli (total of $10.26 USD) so it really wasn’t anything to complain about. That being said, I am exhausted. Villa Gregoriana was a hike and in our four hours at the villa, Kit and I probably walked the whole thing three times over. I would be foolish to estimate distance, but I’m not that out of shape and the only thing I can think of is sleep.

Stay tuned for more adventures al’Italia.

Villa Gregoriana – Cascade through the Valley of Hell

Villa Gregoriana – Grand Cascade

Villa Gregoriana – Grotto of the Mermaids

Villa Gregoriana – Temple of Vesta

Villa d’Este – The Fountain of Neptune and Bernini’s Water Organ

Villa d’Este – The Rometta: Goddess Roma with Romulus + Remus and the Shewolf

Villa d’Este – The Rometta: Skyline of Ancient Rome

Villa d’Este – Fountain of the Dragons

Villa d’Este – Catena d’Acqua

Villa d’Este – Medusa Catena d’Acqua

Villa d’Este – Diana of Ephesus, the Goddess of Fertility // Mother Nature

Villa d’Este – Wisteria-covered Walkway

Villa d’Este – Wisteria

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