Topiarius Travels Bomarzo

Topiarius Travels To . . . The Park of the Monsters

About 42 miles north/northwest of our apartment in Rome was our destination for the day. Being avid garden visitors, we had heard and seen spectacular images of Bomarzo The Park of the Monsters (aka The Sacred Wood). But, we were not prepared to feel the spell that engulfed us as we stepped through the entrance gate.

We left Rome about 7 a.m. and arrived at Bomarzo about 8:30 a.m. The temperature in Rome was in the high 50’s in January, but the mountains proved to be much cooler.

Side Note: There’s nothing better than being in a world renown garden, but being in one with a map is fantastic! So while my husband and friends wanted a free-form adventure, I made sure we followed the numbers. All quite comical considering that the four of us were 1/3 of the people in the park at the time.

One of the first sculptures (#2) we came across was Proteus-Glauco, which is described as a sea monster. Humor and love had its place in Prince Orsini’s heart when his garden/park was completed in 1552. He “desired this project “only to relieve his soul.””[1] While the Prince didn’t design it himself, he chose the best architect to do so. Pirro Ligorio was an architect that worked on the construction of the Vatican.

The current garden is due to the Bettini Family who “discovered [it after Orsini abandoned it due to no heirs], restored and saved it from destruction. . .”[Page 3.]

[1] Bomarzo The Park of the Monsters A guide to The Park of the Monsters by the Giardino de Bomarzo, page 5.

While the terrain was easy to walk, the park is nestled into a hillside and amongst ancient trees. So, for the most part each sculpture is situated independently of the others. The Struggle of Giants (#4) is aptly named. The size is unexpected. (See Craig in the bottom right.) Here good and evil are battling it out – between Hercules and Cacus.

At first glance understanding why a woman is standing on a turtle may seem odd (#5). Yet, Ligorio had a story to tell. He wanted to represent a scene from Virgil’s abyss from where there is no return. The woman represents victory and how “Roman legions often won [battles] thanks to the protection of their shield like the turtles under their shell.”[Page 15.]

As we kept walking down the mossy, tree-lined paths, with at friendly cat circling between us, we kept all yelling out to each other, “You’ve got to come see this!” And that didn’t stop when we came upon The Leaning House (#13). (See Dave in the bottom right tilting it further.) The interior is accessible around the other side, so getting inside for pictures was simple.

Orsini “wanted to offer a strong emotion to his friends who entered the house for a nap, but had to leave immediately for the dizziness they felt.”[Page 22.] Not sure if we felt the dizziness, but we did find the wittiness.

When you can walk into a man’s head in a petrified scream of terror representing the underworld, why not? The Ogre (#19) is one of the most used images to represent Bomarzo and it was captivating to see. I can tell you what’s on the inside, but it may be more fun for you to find out on your own visit.

Maybe Disney knew about this Sleeping Beauty (#25), but definitely didn’t take any other ques. Halfway between sleep and death, the nymph’s history is both Greek and Latin. The proportion of her nails on her hands and feet compared to her body size command one’s attention.

An ancient Italian garden without a temple is like a Roman table without red wine. At the end of the tour there is The Temple (#34). (Angela is standing in the front.) It was built about 20 years after the garden in memory of Orsini’s second wife.

As the morning mist faded away, 2 hours of walking and wondering through the garden, trying to identify all the plants and trees we could, seeing all 35 sculptures, taking silly photos of ourselves throughout, we all found ourselves amazed by the spirit and joy that Bomarzo bestowed upon us.

It was unexpected and delightful . . . even a half century later.

Garden tour and photos provided by Sara J-S.

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