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  • Day3

    Villa L'Adriana & Villa D'Este

    May 9, 2015 in Italy ⋅ 21 °C

    We have stepped back in time today to a garden of antiquity, with a visit to Villa L'Adriana, which was the vision of the Emperor Hadrian, who was also it's chief architect and designer, on top of running the Roman Empire! The Villa is situated just outside Tivoili, in the hills outside Rome and became his country palace. Construction took close on 20 years and started in 117BC and on its completion resembled a small city, with over 1000 people serving the Emperor when he was in residence. No expense was spared and the latest cutting edge technology of the day was employed, plus selecting the finest coloured marbles, mosaics and frescos for decoration. The terme or spas had underfloor heating and the villa was surrounded by beautiful formal gardens. This is the place where, water was first used as a element of design in the western world and this site became for later generations, a must visit point of inspiration and an essential of the Grand Tour. The villa fell into abandon at the fall of the Roman Empire when it was sacked and looted by the Barbarians. Some 200 years later Pierro Ligorio came here and took away the idea of water to be reworked and improved upon at Vllla d'Este, the garden of which he designed close by. Nowadays, the Villa grounds have returned to nature and are surrounded by a grove of olives interspersed by wild flowers, which were in full bloom. It is a magnificent sight and gives the ruins a quite unique feel, which somehow feels right. There has been a substantial amount of archeology and restoration over the years, but money or the lack of it is a constant problem. Our guide Barbara brought it all to life for us so well and under her careful guidance the villa and Hadrian's world blossomed before our eyes. Here is a garden with a difference. Fascinating and requiring vision as it is viewed today, but not to be missed if you are in the vicinity.

    After lunch we travelled into Tivoili itself, to find the famous garden of Cardinal d'Este, who commissioned Pietro Ligorio to design the garden to his newly completed villa in Tivoli. The d'Este's were another powerful family with aspirations to the papacy, which the Cardinal narrowly missed three times. This garden was undoubtedly planned as an entertainment and awe inspiring backdrop to its owners powers of persuasion. It descends through three levels from the villa itself, with the technical artistry increasing in intensity with the descent. The sheer amount of water used here has to be seen to be believed and it was all achieved through gravity, water pressure and hydraulics. There is not a pump in sight. This would be a fantastic achievement now, let alone in the mid C15th when the garden was constructed. As with many of these fabulous gardens, there has been a period of abandonment, and it has been the task of our present age to restore and reclaim for posterity. What is interesting is that modern minds and techniques have been defeated by some features, in particular the owl fountain, which originally featured bronze branches and little birds that would sing, until the appearance of a fearsome owl when the birds would be silenced in fear and all this is achieved through the application of water in the correct manner! There is a 'herbaceous border' of 100 small fountains and sculptures that would initially have displayed terracotta tablets on which Ovid's famous poem Metamorphosis were carved. The dragon fountain that was built overnight to honour a visit of the then Pope to Villa d'Este, no doubt in the hope of improving the Cardinal's chances of being his successor! This fountain propels a jet of water over 100 ft high only to fall back into a dragon infested pool. The dragon was the the family symbol of the visiting Pope, but sadly the gesture failed to produce the required result! One cannot forget the grotto waterfall that Monty Don stood behind in his programme Gardens of the World, or the organ fountain that plays a madrigal at appointed times again purely through the power of water. The finale of the show is a huge waterfall and fountain complex, which is quite remarkable. Originally, the planting in the Garden would have been formal and Italian. In the current version there are more plants and flowers, which add to our enjoyment today but would not have been the intention all those years ago when shade, greenery, texture, symmetry, classical statuary and sheer artistry ruled the day.
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