Villa d’Este, masterpiece of the Italian
Garden, is included in the UNESCO world heritage list.
With its impressive concentration of fountains, nymphs,
grottoes, plays of water, and music, it constitutes a
much-copied model for European gardens in the mannerist
and baroque styles.
The garden is generally considered
within the larger –and altogether extraordinary-- context
of Tivoli itself: its landscape, art and history which
includes the important ruins of ancient
villas such as the Villa Adriana, as well as a zone rich
in caves and waterfalls displaying the unending battle
between water and stone. The imposing constructions and
the series of terraces above terraces bring to mind the
hanging gardens of Babylon, one of the wonders of the
ancient world. The addition of water-- including an
aqueduct tunneling beneath the city -- evokes the
engineering skill of the Romans themselves.
Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, after the
disappointment of a failed bid for the papacy, brought
back to life here the splendor of the courts of Ferrara,
Rome and Fontainebleau and revived the magnificence of Villa Adriana. Governor of
Tivoli from 1550, he immediately nurtured the idea of
realizing a garden in the hanging cliffs of the “Valle
gaudente”, but it was only after 1560 that his
architectural and iconographic program became
clear—brainchild of the painter-architect-archeologist Pirro Ligorio
and realized by court architect Alberto Galvani.
The rooms of the Palace were decorated
under the tutelage of the stars of the late Roman
Mannerism, such as Livio Agresti, Federico Zuccari, Durante Alberti, Girolamo Muziano, Cesare Nebbia and Antonio Tempesta.
The work was almost complete at the time of the Cardinal’s
From 1605 Cardinal Alessandro d'Este
gave the go-ahead to a new progam of interventions not
only to restore and repair the vegetation and the
waterworks, but also to create a new series of innovations
to the layout of the garden and the decorations of the
Other works were carried out from 1660 –
70; these involved no less a figure than Gianlorenzo Bernini.
In the XVIIIth century the lack of
maintenance led to the decay of the complex, which was
aggravated by the property’s passage to the House of
Hapsburg. The garden was slowly abandoned, the water
works-- no longer used--fell into ruin, and the collection
of ancient statues— enlarged under Cardinal Ippolito, was
disassembled and scattered.
This state of decay continued without
interruption until the middle of the XIXth century, when Gustav von Hohelohe,
who obtained in enfiteusi the villa from the Dukes of
Modena in 1851, launched a series of works to pull the
complex back from its state of ruin. Between 1867 and 1882
the Villa once again became a cultural point of reference,
with the Cardinal frequently hosting the musician Franz
Liszt (1811 - 1886), who composed Giochi d'acqua a Villa
d'Este for piano while a guest here, and who in 1879 gave
one of his final concerts.
At the outbreak of the first world war
the villa became a property of the Italian State, and
during the 1920s it was restored and opened to the public.
Another, radical restoration was carried out immediately
after the Second World War to repair the damage caused by
the bombing of 1944. Due to particularly unfavorable
environmental conditions, the restorations have continued
practically without interruption during the past twenty
years (among these it is worth noting the recent cleaning
of the Organ Fountain and also the “Birdsong.”)