Just 24 km east of Rome lies the ancient town of Tivoli—THE Tivoli after which all other Tivolis owe their name.
A trip to Tivoli is as easy as going to the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, for the day—but to be weighed down with far deeper layers of multiple histories.
There are at least three compelling sites to visit—all stretching the definition of "villa"; The Villa Gregoriana, the Villa d'Este and Hadrian's Villa.
And there's more to experience for those who have time...
The Villa Gregoriana, is really an unnatural, natural reserve, dominated by a Greek looking pagan temple to the Sybline goddesses. At some point a beneficent Pope, no doubt called Gregory, approved the restoration of this ancient gorge with all sorts of attachments to pagan worship and nature cults. In ancient times, it was home to pagan cave hermits and various river nymphs. And deep in the forest, and with the crashing sounds of cascading rapids, the water nymphs seem to have never left.
It's hard to believe that the tumbling water systems in the gorge, are the result of engineering works which rerouted the natural river flows. It created a wondrously fake piece of wild, natural-nature with highs falls and crashing rapids. The gorge was particularly beloved by the early nineteenth-century Romantics, who were tripping over themselves in clamorous praise of the artificial nature they encountered…
Artificially directed "natural" falls.
The Delphic style temple overlooking the gorge.
Any pretence of impersonating nature was thrown out the window by the cardinals of the D'Este family—always a second son of the Duke of Ferrara. And it must have been fun to be a Cardinal in the sixteenth century—doing what you like, when you like and how you like.
The results of the latitude afforded to Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este (son of Lucretia Borgia) is the magnificence of the gardens of Villa d'Este. Mere water features never exuded such luxuriance. Designed for the pure whimsical pleasures of the Cardinal and his coterie, the designers could not have imagined later legions of photographers, so fully sated. Embedded in the design are multiple viewing spots provisioned through a panoply of nooks, crannies and other strategic vantage points. Such knowingly placed vantage points, mean it's easy to multiply appreciate the full extravagance of the water displays—from within, behind, in front and below. Too much is never enough.
Through this colossal piece of three-dimensional design, the garden reflects the rationality, precision and love of beauty, that is the ethos of the High Renaissance. Wandering downs its many paths, it's possible to wonder if this is a real-time experience of the Renaissance.
It certainly has a taste for the times that better contextualises TV series of the likes of the Borgias or the Medicis... And, it's the real thing.
The row of a hundred fountains...
A little spurt from Pegasus...
An eager observer
Surprisingly modest statue on the terrace
Citrus grove & pools at the end of fountain complex.
The mother of all water features ??
Just more of more...
From a viewing point behind a fountain.
A short bus ride from the centre of Tivoli is the site of Hadrians Villa... And "villa" is an understatement. The site is a veritable sprawling townscape. Again, it has the remarkable effect of evoking imagined feelings of its era. Even nature looks primed to play its part it as the backdrop to an old sword and sandals film. But this is no set. It's the real thing.
Much of the original statuary and marble columns were carried off by Cardinal Ippolito d'Este to be generously recycled at his own fabulous nearby Villa. But enough is left to get a sense of the place.
Off to the side, near the main entrance, is Hadrian's private retreat, with his personal library floating like a lily pad within a circular pond. It's easy to imagine the mighty ruler of the vast Roman Empire—a living god— residing here in contemplation as a mere human; in need of rest, replenishment and companionship like all mortals. Here in the personal quarters of Hadrian, the original humanist, are the indications of rational order and sublime serenity.
Hardrian's private library island
Visions of Adrian's private rooms
Inside the colonnade
The sacred turtle??
Beautifully presented, even cut grass, but no signage .. So a large building!!!
Maybe the Hall of the philosophers.. which appears to be an audience hall next to the island..
Roman reproduced Greek statuary
Around a ceremonial lake.. for sumptousnight time banquets.
Surrounded by traditional Roman landscape..
The Villa Gregorina, the Villa d'Este and Hadrian's Villa are three sites in the Tivoli area. There are more. Visiting these richly textured sites from different epochs of Tivoli's long history is like visiting an overstuffed art gallery with too many masterpieces.
It's best to absorb them slowly and in digestible portions.