Giochi d’Acqua at the Villa d’Este

June 8, 2012 / Places
Tivoli, Lazio
Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este had, shall we say, powerful relatives – a grandson of Pope Alexander VI, son of Alfonso I d’Este and Lucrezia Borgia and nephew to her brother Cesare. Ippolito inherited the archbishopric of Milan from another uncle in 1591 at the tender age of ten. It was the income from this and other benefices that would fuel his lifelong passions for magnificence and display. Having refurbished palaces in Ferrara and Rome he turned his attention to the Villa d’Este in Tivoli which now stands as his memorial – a late Renaissance fantasy house and garden in the Mannerist style.

In 1549 Ippolito, by now a cardinal, commissioned Pirro Ligorio to redesign the existing villa and devise terraced gardens running down the slope behind it. The d’Este court architect, Alberto Galvani directed the work and Tommaso Chiruchi, master hydraulic engineer, was engaged to create giochi d’acqua (‘water games’) to enliven every part of the garden. He had to ensure that the 500 jets, fountains and pools in the design not only had a powerful water supply (a river and a stream diverted for the purpose) but that the water would leap, fan out and pour playfully from the many ingenious sources devised for it.

To walk beside Le Cento Fontane (the Hundred Fountains) is one of the most exquisitely poetic experiences in Italy – maidenhair fern is wafted by the lower jets while up above the water opens into peacock tail fans. Elsewhere there is high drama as water shoots into the air, competing with the shapes of cypress trees – walk behind these jets and watch rainbows dance in the spray.

But there are other, more tranquil spots. May is a good time to enjoy scented orange blossom and the baked bread smell of clipped box hedges.

Throughout the centuries poets, musicians, artists and garden designers have paid homage to this place. In the eighteenth century, the gardens and fountains lapsed into decay, acquiring a new fame in an age that adored their Romantic, abandoned atmosphere. However, after the First World War, the villa and grounds were purchased by the Italian state and restored and today they are, not surprisingly, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Penny Ewles-Bergeron

by Penny Ewles-Bergeron

Writer, artist, … celebrating the many good things in Naples.

27 Responses to “Giochi d’Acqua at the Villa d’Este”

  1. Marilyn Canna

    Brings back marvelous memories of one of my first tours as a student at Loyola University’s Rome Center many years ago. It’s also important to note this site’s relationship to Hadrian’s Villa (2nd C AD) nearby, from which statuary was removed to populate Ippolito’s estate.

    Reply
  2. louise

    What a beautiful Note. The story and pictures bring back memories of an early render-vous with my to-be husband of many years. So romantic! Thank you.

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  3. Gian Banchero

    Ahh, the mind has so much more fun with the hide-and-seek sculptural art of yesteryear than with the modern cement-block presentations found now in so many big cities! I can hear the water “playing” whilst looking at your wonderful photos, thank you Penny!

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  4. Elena Gravdal

    Thank you for the memory. We were there for our honeymoon 51 YEARS AGO. Beautiful photos.

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  5. Thank you for the story and beautiful photos. As I sit at my laptop in a coffee shop in Texas, you have lifted by mind away from work to my wonderful memories of Italy. I can almost hear the fountain’s waters.

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  6. Bob Paglee

    Fantastic place! My first visit there was 60 years ago.

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  7. Thank you Penny for the most interesting information about the Borgia’s. The pictures are so beautiful and they give me a time out to relax as I look to them.
    Grazie Mille,
    Ciao,
    Claudia

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  8. Joe Doyle

    Thanks for the memory. We visited the palace and garden after visiting Hadrian’s summer palace nearby. It makes for a great day!

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  9. Margie Cox

    I was just there 3 weeks ago. What a wonderful place. Brings back wonderful memories of Italy!

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  10. Jean Mancini

    I WAS THERE IN 2009, DID A 14 DAY TOUR, AND THEN MET RELATIVES I HAD NEVER MET, THEY ALL LIVE IN ROME! VILLA D ESTA WAS WONDERFUL, I WILL BE BACK AND I WILL GO AND SEE IT AGAIN. AHHHH SUCH MEMORIES

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  11. Penny Ewles-Bergeron
    Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    Thanks everyone for the appreciative feedback. It’s one of those key lifetime places that live on in the mind long after your visit. Marilyn’s absolutely right to point out the intimate (pillaging/recycling) connection to the Villa Adriana nearby.

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  12. Linda Boccia

    This and so many other attracttions are what is going to finally urge us to sell our house in San Franciaso and to move back permanently to the city of my husband’s birth. WE LOVE ROME with all it’s many steps, churches,unexpected parks etc. We have lived there twice for work, University for me, and it has always been difficult to leave.

    Thank you Penny. Grazie tanto specialmente per i foto

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  13. Kitty Boes

    Penny, you certainly captured the essence of the Villa d’Este experience in your photos. I have been a Travel Director for over 20 years, and this area of Italy has a special place in my heart.

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  14. Gabby

    Always looking for new places to visit In Italy.
    This is now on our Italian ” Bucket List”
    Thanks, beautiful photos !
    Florida USA

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  15. Fantastic!! I have never even heard of this place before. Love the whimsical fountains and can only imagine how tranquil a setting this is to experience first hand! Stellar photographs too my dear Penny!

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  16. Melanie

    On a hot July day in 1971, (I was 17), my grandparents and I visited this magical place. It was one of the highlights of my 7 weeks in Italy. It still holds a special place in my heart.

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  17. Lisa Tavelli Feinbetg

    There last month. All as you said & pictured.
    Thank you so much!

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  18. I’m here in Rome, for the first time, as an “older” student- I retired in October with a visit to Italy #1 on my bucket list.The last night planned of this study abroad program is a night in Tivoli at the Gardens- I look forward to our last night celebration with great enthusiasm thanks to your story and pictures!
    P.S. I love this website!

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  19. Penny Ewles-Bergeron
    Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    Thanks again for lovely responses – it’s one of those enchanting places that feeds all the aesthetic senses. I’m very happy the Notebook enabled me to share it with others.

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  20. Lina Falcone

    I was at Villa D’Este years ago it’s a magical gardens, it’s beautiful fountains. Grazie

    Reply

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