Villa D’Este, a Palace for a Cardinal in Tivoli

Of all the towns we went to in Italy, I think Tivoli is the one I liked the most. Italy has many places to visit, so maybe not my favorite in the whole country but certainly on my trip. We spent almost a week in a hotel in Roma located near the Tiburtina station which is the second largest and is a good point to go out for day trips.

From Tiburtina to Tivoli by train is about 40 minutes. Going by bus is cheaper and faster but there is something about European trains that fascinate me. We left late but it is really worth going early or spending a night in a hotel in Tívoli as there is so much to do. Italy is the country in the world with the most sites considered World Heritage according to UNESCO. Only in Tivoli they have two places which are Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este.

When we arrived at the train station we crossed a bridge to enter Tivoli. We asked how to get to Villa D’Este and they told us it was a few minutes walking.

We passed by Rocca Pia which was built by Pope Pius II in 1461 during the Renaissance. Its construction was to control the population and show the papal power over the area.

We got lucky

It seems that on Monday mornings Villa d’Este is closed and only opens in the afternoons but most people think that it closes all day. There were very few people so it was ideal to take pictures despite the fact that the day was a bit gray. We went for Easter and each month the schedule changes. It always opens at 8:30 a.m. (except Mondays) but closes depending on the sun.

Villa d’Este was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. It has “remarkable and complete illustrations of Renaissance culture in its most refined form”.

Ippolito II d’Este, was the grandson of Pope Alexander VI and son of the Duke of Ferrara. Because of his family connections, he was named archbishop of Milan at the age of 10. Then he became an advisor to the French King, Francis I. He asked Pope Paul III to name Ippolito as a cardinal with a high salary. He tried to be Pope five times but was never chosen and was given the position of governor of Tivoli.

The house of the cardinal

Villa d’Este was originally a Franciscan monastery but it was expropriated by the Cardinal who  converted into his mansion. He hired Pirro Ligorio to build the new villa and obtained marble and statues from Villa Adriana. He began to demolish houses, public buildings and roads to have enough space for his project. The entire property has 4.5 hectares. Although the town sued, the work continued and even diverted the Aniene river to have enough water for the waterfalls, pools, fountains and water games.

When the cardinal died, the villa passed between members of his family and third parties. They all had problems paying the high costs to maintain it. Until the Italian state bought it after the First World War.

Each room in Villa d’Este is a work of art that has a strange combination between the old testament and Greek and Roman mythology. You can see that the rooms have been maintained. The details of the frescoes are beautiful and colorful.

Spectacular gardens in Villa d’Este

As much as the mansion is impressive, the best of Villa d’Este is its 16th century gardens. During the tour of the house you will go out to the terraces and see a beautiful panoramic view.

At the end you will exit to a huge terrace to start your journey through the garden that has more than 500 fountains and many sculptures. The gardens have quite a Baroque influence.

The Hundred Fountains (Cento Fontane in Italian) are in a corridor and have almost 300 jets with scare faces that gush water through their mouths. At the top there are gargoyles that look like monkeys with wings.

At one end is the Fontana di Rometta and on the other is the Oval Fountain. The idea is that from the Oval Fountain come the waters of the Tiburtina mountains passing through the valley (the Hundred Fountains) and ending in Rome (the Fontana di Rometta).

In 1571 the Organ Fountain (Fontana dell’Organo) was made, playing music every two hours, starting at 10:30 a.m., for anyone passing through the site. The Fountain of Neptune is undoubtedly the most photographed because of its large jets of water that can be seen through three fish ponds that decorate the garden. This fountain was made in the twentieth century just below the Organ Fountain to replace a part of the garden that had deteriorated.

Another fountain that I liked was that of the Dragons that is covered in silt and has ducklings living inside. This fountain was made to illustrate the story of Hercules who stole dragon Ladon’s golden apples. But it was changed from a dragon with a hundred heads to four dragons, symbol of Pope Gregory, when he went to visit the site in 1572.

What to do in Tivoli?

When we left Villa d’Este we tried to go to Villa Adriana, which was the summer residence of Emperor Hadrian I in Roman times. But our luck changed because although the bus is quite cheap (it costs €1) you must buy a ticket. We went to several places where they told us to buy tickets and nobody had. The bus driver did not let us pay on the bus and it was like 30 minutes walking.

There is another villa called Villa Gregoriana that was made by Pope Gregory XVI in 1835. It was closed but we saw it outside from a bridge that crosses the river Aniene.

This park was built at the foot of the ancient Acropolis. Those who visit can go through a forest to reach the caves of Neptune and the Sirens, which are part of a collection of waterfalls.

The town is very nice to walk and we stopped at The Black Sheep Pub to have a beer. I ordered a blanche from a local artisan brewery.

After we finished having dinner in one of the few restaurants that we found open. I am sure that in high season it should be more crowded. Then we took the train back to Rome.

More photos of Tivoli in Italy:

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