Many years ago, I watched a documentary on Villa dÉste at Tivoli, a UNESCO world heritage site outside Rome, and was fascinated by the beautiful ancient gardens including an abundance of fountains. So naturally, when planning our trip to Italy, a trip to visit these gorgeous gardens was on the list.
We looked at using public transport to get to Tivloli from Rome – you can take the bus directly to the village or a train, then the bus, but as we had limited time, we opted to hire a private car to take us there. Our lovely driver from Luciano Roma Tour collected us at 8.30am, drove us to Tivoli to visit Villa dÉste and nearby Villa Hadrian, introduced us to the best gelati in Rome, provided a running commentary and answered all our questions, then returned us to Rome about 2pm. At 130 euros, the fare wasn’t cheap, but it turned out to be great value, and we especially enjoyed the driver’s local knowledge (the gelati shop was definitely a bonus!).
Villa dÉste is located in the hilltop village of Tivoli, less than an hour’s drive from Rome. The property comprises a substantial villa/palace and expansive gardens. The 16th century property is an excellent example of Italian Renaissance architecture. The innovative design and architectural components, such as fountains, statues and ornamental basins made the garden an early model for the development of many more modern grand European gardens.
When you enter the property, you walk into a magnificent 16th century courtyard, which is built in a former Benedictine cloister. You almost feel as though you should speak in hushed tones or that a monk may wander along the corridor any moment.
Inside the villa itself, we saw vaulted ceilings decorated with frescoes and pebble mosaics, which were like nothing we’d seen before.
Most of the rooms we saw were empty, but the views over the garden were lovely.
Descending the wide marble staircase, we got a view of the villa from the outside, with its pretty wisteria vines climbing along the walls of the lower terrace.
We then wandered down another set of stairs to explore the much-anticipated gardens. We weren’t disappointed. The garden is laid out in a formal pattern, with a central axis and several cross-axes.
Everywhere you look, there’s water – in ponds, water troughs and fountains. In fact, there are some five hundred jets of water throughout the garden. The water was originally supplied by a natural sprint, but now comes from the Aniene River, which was partly diverted for the project.
One of the most famous features is the Hundred Fountains, where water jets fill a long rustic trough.
As we strolled along the far side of the garden, a worker, gestured towards the large fountain at the top of the garden, saying, ‘Musica, Musica”. We nodded and said, “Grazie, Grazie” in return, then strode up to the fountain as it started to play music.
Having been erected for the visit of Pope Gregoy in 1572, the Fountain of the Dragons dominates the central area of the gardens. This fountain features a hydraulic water organ, where piped water under pressure pushes air into chambers that produce music through the organ pipes. It’s completely automatic, that is, no one actually plays it. Kinda weird, but entertaining and pretty amazing when you think the fountain was built nearly 500 years ago.
Throughout the garden, there are dozens of pots bursting with brightly coloured tulips.
I thought how much my Dad would have loved to see this magnificent garden, as he was such a keen gardener himself, but I felt he was with me in spirit. We spent about 2 hours at the villa, before we had to leave to go to Villa Hadrian, but we definitely have could have spent longer at Villa dÉste.
Have you visited Villa dÉste?
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