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Villa d'Este

UNESCO World Heritage Site
Villa d'Este, Tivoli
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iii, iv, vi
Reference 1025
UNESCO region Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 2001 (25th Session)

The Villa d'Este is a villa in Tivoli, near Rome, Italy. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, it is a fine example of Renaissance architecture and the Italian Renaissance garden. As a State Museum, Villa d'Este has since December 2014's been run by the Polo Museale del Lazio.


  • History 1
  • The villa 2
  • Gardens 3
  • How to reach 4
  • Gallery 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


Park of the Villa d'Este, Carl Blechen, 1830. The overgrown garden appealed to the Romantic imagination; today this same view is once again manicured

The Villa d'Este was commissioned by Cardinal Pope Alexander VI. He had been appointed Governor of Tivoli by Pope Julius III, with the gift of the existing palace,[1] which he had entirely reconstructed to plans of Pirro Ligorio carried out under the direction of the Ferrarese architect-engineer Alberto Galvani, court architect of the Este. The chief painter of the ambitious internal decoration was Livio Agresti from Forlì. From 1550 until his death in 1572, when the villa was nearing completion, Cardinal d'Este created a palatial setting surrounded by a spectacular terraced garden in the late-Renaissance mannerist style, which took advantage of the dramatic slope but required innovations in bringing a sufficient water supply, which was employed in cascades, water tanks, troughs and pools, water jets and fountains, giochi d'acqua. The result is one of the series of great 17th century villas with water-play structures in the hills surrounding the Roman Campagna, such as the Villa Lante, the Villa Farnese at Caprarola and the Villas Aldobrandini and Torlonia in Frascati. Their garden planning and their water features were imitated in the next two centuries from Portugal to Poland.

Drawing inspiration (and many statues[2] and much of the marble used for construction) from the nearby Villa Adriana, the palatial retreat of Emperor Hadrian, and reviving Roman techniques of hydraulic engineering to supply water to a sequence of fountains, the cardinal created a fantasy garden. Its architectural elements and water features had an enormous influence on European landscape design.


The ceiling frescos of the villa

Cardinal Alessandro d'Este repaired and extended the gardens from 1605. In the eighteenth century the villa and its gardens passed to the House of Habsburg after Ercole III d'Este bequeathed it to his daughter Maria Beatrice, married to Grand Duke Ferdinand of Habsburg. The villa and its gardens were neglected. The hydraulics fell into disuse, and many of the sculptures commissioned by Ippolito d'Este were scattered to other sites. The picturesque sense of decay recorded by Carl Blechen and other painters was reversed during the tenure of Cardinal Gustav Adolf, Prince of Hohenlohe-Schillingfürst; the Cardinal hosted Franz Liszt, who evoked the garden in his Les Jeux d'Eaux à la Villa d'Este and gave one of his last concerts here. Villa d'Este was purchased for the Italian State after World War I, restored, and refurnished with paintings from the storerooms of the Galleria Nazionale, Rome. Jean Garrigue's volume of poems A Water Walk by Villa d'Este (1959) continues a long tradition of poetry inspired by the gardens. Kenneth Anger filmed Eaux d'artifice among the water features of the garden. Thus the Villa has been celebrated in poetry, painting and music.

The grounds of the Villa d'Este also house the Museo Didattico del Libro Antico, a teaching museum for the study and conservation of antiquarian books.

Pirro Ligorio's Gran Loggia on the garden front
Villa d'Este Gardens - the fountains

The villa

The villa itself is surrounded on three sides by a sixteenth-century courtyard sited on the former Benedictine cloister. The fountain on a side wall, framed within a Doric, contains a sculpture of a sleeping nymph in a grotto[3] guarded by d'Este heraldic eagles, with a bas-relief framed in apple boughs that links the villa to the Garden of the Hesperides.

The central main entrance leads to the Appartamento Vecchio ("Old Apartment") made for Ippolito d'Este, with its vaulted ceilings frescoed in secular allegories by Livio Agresti and his students, centered on the grand Sala, with its spectacular view down the main axis of the gardens, which fall away in a series of terraces. To the left and right are suites of rooms, that on the left containing Cardinal Ippolito's's library and his bedchamber with the chapel beyond, and the private stairs to the lower apartment, the Appartamento Nobile, which gives directly onto Pirro Ligorio's Gran Loggia straddling the gravelled terrace with a triumphal arch motif.


The garden plan is laid out on a central axis with subsidiary cross-axes, refreshed by some five hundred jets in fountains, pools and water troughs. The water is supplied by the Aniene, which is partly diverted through the town, a distance of a kilometer, and, originally, by the Rivellese spring, which supplied a cistern under the villa's courtyard (now supplied by the Aniene too). The garden is now part of the Grandi Giardini Italiani.

The Villa's uppermost terrace ends in a balustraded balcony at the left end, with a sweeping view over the plain below. Symmetrical double flights of stairs flanking the central axis lead to the next garden terrace, with the Grotto of Diana, richly decorated with frescoes and pebble mosaic to one side and the central Fontana del Bicchierone ("Fountain of the Great Cup"), planned by Bernini in 1660, where water issues from a seemingly natural rock into a scrolling shell-like cup.

To descend to the next level, there are stairs at either end — the elaborate fountain complex called the Rometta ("the little Rome") is at the far left — to view the full length of the Hundred Fountains on the next level, where the water jets fill the long rustic trough, and Pirro Ligorio's Fontana dell'Ovato ends the cross-vista. A visitor may walk behind the water through the rusticated arcade of the concave nymphaeum, which is peopled by marble nymphas by Giambattista della Porta. Above the nymphaeum, the sculpture of Pegasus recalls to the visitor the fountain of Hippocrene on Parnassus, haunt of the Muses.

This terrace is united to the next by the central Fountain of the Dragons, dominating the central perspective of the gardens, erected for a visit in 1572 of Pope Gregory XIII whose coat-of-arms features a dragon. The sound of this fountain was in contrast to a nearby Uccellario with artificial birds.[4] Central stairs lead down a wooded slope to three rectangular fishponds set on the cross-axis at the lowest point of the gardens, terminated at the right by the water organ (now brought back into use) and Fountain of Neptune (belonging to the 20th century restorations).

How to reach

Villa d'Este is easily reachable in the following ways:

  • Taking the blue regional COTRAL bus Roma Tivoli-Via Prenestina at the bus terminal just outside Ponte Mammolo station of metro line B; the stop Largo Nazioni Unite is about 100m far from the entrance of the Villa
  • Taking the urban train line FL2 from Tiburtina station to Tivoli station, then, local bus CAT number 1 or 4/ to Piazza Garibaldi stop; the stop is in Tivoli's main square in front of the Villa.


See also


  1. ^ The villa had been confiscated from the Benedictines by the papacy in the thirteenth century, for use as a governor's residence.
  2. ^ The second-century Roman marble Musée du Louvre is said to have been recovered in the grounds of the Villa d'Este.
  3. ^ The figure follows a Hellenistic prototype most familiar in the Sleeping Ariadne of the Vatican. The grotto, epitomized by the high-relief stalactites, identifies her as the resident nymph, or genius loci, though guidebooks casually call her a Venus.
  4. ^ It was said by the traveler Raymond, that theses fountains "vomit forth the water with a most horrid noise" An Itinerary: Contayning a Voyage, Made Through Italy, in the Yeare 1646; by John Raymond, page 171.


  • Touring Club Italiano, 1966. Guida d'Italia: Roma et dintorni, pp 615–18.
  • English history on official site

Further reading

  • Cartocci, Sergio 1976. Tivoli: The Tiburtine area: its history and works of art : Villa d'Este, Villa Gregoriana, Villa Adriana
  • Coffin, David R. 1960. The Villa D'Este At Tivoli
  • Dal Maso, Leonardo B. 1978.The villa of Ippolito II d'Este at Tivoli (Italia artistica)
  • Dernie, David,and Alastair Carew-Cox 1996. The Villa D'Este at Tivoli
  • de Vita, Marcello. 1950 etc. Villa d'Este: Description of the villa
  • Durand, Jean 1992. Les jeux d'eau de la Villa d'Este
  • Mancini, Gioacchino, 1959. Villa Adriana e Villa d'Este (Itinerari del musei e monumenti d'Italia)
  • Pemberton, Margaret. 1955. Villa d'Este
  • Podenzani, Nino, 1960. Villa d'Este
  • Raymond, (trans. Hall) 1920. Historical Notes on Villa d`Este

External links

Media related to at Wikimedia Commons

  • Official website
  • Tivoli - Villa d'Este Illustrated information and description of Villa d'Este
  • Roberto Piperno, "Villa d'Este"
  • The Villa d'Este Garden - The Mirror of Dreams
  • Festival Jeux d'art a Villa d'Este
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