The origin of everything always has a reason, just the way all of our actions have a motivation. Whether based in a real necessity or only a desire of something superfluous, there is always a thought or an emotion that generates the tangible reality of what we create.
The seed of inception of Villa d’Este was based in pride, more precisely, in a wounded pride and an unfulfilled desire of power. Ippolito II the Duke of Este, second-born of one of the most powerful and eminent Italian dynasties, was destined for an ecclesiastical career and became a cardinal at the young age of 30 years old. Cultured, erudite, a passionate collector of antiques and patron of artists and academics, Ippolito hosted personalities like Benvenuto Cellini, Pirro Ligorio and Torquato Tasso at his court.
Arriving in Rome in 1549, he quickly became one of jet-setters of his time. Ambitious and rich, his only unfulfilled desire was the pope’s tiara. And he tried – five times, but was never elected.
After failing to be elected in 1549, as compensation, the Cardinal was given the Governorato of Tivoli-a small fascinating town near Rome, unique in the world with its immeasurable archeological heritage, filled with a plethora of antiquities including the extraordinary Villa Adriana built by Emperor Adriano between 118 and 138 AD.
Cardinal Ippolito called on one of the most controversial artists of his time – Pirro Ligorio: architect, antique dealer, painter, person of letters.
The enlightened collectors at that time sought authentic ancient artifacts as the evidence of inherited magnificence. When the proof of authenticity was impossible to find – people like Ligorio – used imagination to fill in.
From this happy collaboration of two perfect “men of their time”, an idea was born to transform Tivoli – a simple, poor monastery, absolutely not adequate for a high flying Cardinal – “into a royal location”, with magnificent innovative gardens which would be even more spectacular than those of Quirinale – the summer residence of the Pope at that time.
The place chosen by the Cardinal was an extraordinary site with far reaching panoramic views –which were essential prerequisites according to the XVI century canons for the edification of a villa.
The idea was to build a place worthy of competition with the Emperor’s Adriano Villa, clearly visible in the distance from the surrounding plains. The natural terrain dropped 148 feet. Perfect for creating a gigantic garden full of water features, but the endeavor seemed to be of titanic proportions.
In fact, it took about 20 years to construct , tons of earth was moved, transferred, dug up and leveled. Yards of retaining walls had to be constructed, houses were wiped out, streets were rerouted, and angry people had to be moved away. Three sources were used for to supply the garden’s water features: the river Aniene accessed by a canal, the aqueduct Rivellese and rainwater gathered in huge tanks.
The garden of Villa d’Este has the most elaborate and articulate system of fountains known in the Europe of the XVI century. It’s one of the highest expressions of the garden intended as a piece of art, an example of human genius that is united with the breathtaking beauty of nature – a reflection of the paradise on Earth.
If you happen to be in Rome and you love gardens, you can’t miss the opportunity to see it. Maybe after exhausting days in the city, you would like just to take a day for resting. Allow yourself to get lost in the magic of the Villa d’Este.
I. Barisi , M. Fagiolo, M. L. Madonna, 2003, Villa d’Este, De Luca Editori d’Arte
M. Mosser, G. Teyssot, 1999, L’architettura dei giardini d’Occidente. Dal Rinascimento al Novecento,Mondadori Electa
F. Pizzoni, 1997, Il giardino arte e storia, Leonardo arte