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.
Tradition says that Ostia was founded by Ancus Marcius, the 4th king of Rome, who lived during the second half of the 7th century B.C., even if - till today - there is little archeological evidence corroborating such information. However, it seems that during the Regal period there was a built-up area near the mouth of the Tiber, where there were some salt marshes producing salt: a priceless and essential wealth. Salt was used to flavor and preserve food, so, keeping its production under control was absolutely necessary, as the historian Titus Livius says, recalling, among other things, that the whole area surrounding the mouth of the Tiber was strategically important for Rome.
In any case, the first settlement can be traced back to the beginning of the 4th century B.C., immediately after the defeat of the Etruscan town of Veio, situated on the right bank of the river, which fell to the Roman army in 396 B.C. Only at the end of that century a squared fortified post (castrum) was built. This castrum was surrounded by strong tufa walls and its main road axes - the Cardus and the Decumanus - were north-south oriented and east-west oriented, respectively. This military camp, called Ostia from the Latin word Ostium meaning "mouth of the river", was established at a distance of around 16 miles from Rome, as a military outpost to keep under control not only the access to the Tiber, but also its lower course and nearby areas, in order to defend Rome.
Ostia, the first Roman colony, became immediately a river port acquiring a commercial function to supply Rome with food stuff, particularly wheat, even if its strategic military function as naval base certainly prevailed.
The garden of Ninfa was declared a Natural Monument in 2000, and it comprises:
- the medieval ruined town, with its outer walls
- the English-style romantic garden dating from the early 20th century
- the 17th-century Hortus Conclusus
- the river and lake with their rare eco-system
- the setting itself – culturally, pictorially and environmentally exceptional.
Ninfa draws together history, architecture and nature. The microclimate and eco-system are rare because Ninfa sits at the juncture of two contrasting geological formations - the alluvial Pontine plain and the limestone Lepini hills. The property faces south and enjoys the benefit of pure and abundant spring waters.
Though in ruins, Ninfa is a rare example of a complete medieval town. Abandoned for five centuries, it was described by the historian Gregorovius in the 1880s as the ‘Pompeii of the Middle Ages’. What we see today are the significant remains of a fortified town, encircled by a double girdle of walls, which reached its peak of prosperity between the 13th and 14th centuries. The urban layout is still clearly distinguishable, giving the garden a setting that appeals to the imagination. The main buildings, not all of them in good condition, are easily identified as the castle, the town hall (converted to a Caetani family house), and the churches of S. Giovanni, S. Biagio, S. Salvatore, and S. Paolo all situated along the outer walls. S. Maria Maggiore occupies a central position and S. Pietro ‘outside the walls’ stands closer to the base of the hills.
Over time the Garden of Ninfa has developed a truly international plant collection. It is widely known for being both a protected monument and a nature conservation area.
HOST: maybe is difficult to reach Ninfa with public transport and a car will be necessary!
In a splendid position overlooking Lake Albano, Castle Gandolfo is situated on the brink of a volcanic crater. The town is known for the beauty of the surrounding nature and its elegant historical centre encircled by the wall. It has been elected one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Above all, the small town is famous for the Papal Palace where Popes have spent their summers since the 17th century. After all, Castel Gandolfo and neighbouring towns were favourite places to build summer residences as far back as ancient Roman times, initially by patrician families and emperors and later by important clergy and noble Romans. Evidence of ancient Roman times are the remains of the Villa di Domiziano (Domitian's Villa) to which the Ninfeo Bergantino belongs.
The villas and other residences surviving today such as the Church of St. Thomas of Villanova were mostly built as of the 17th century when Castel Gandolfo became property of the Holy See. Its history is very ancient as its origins go back to the town of Alba Longa.
Bomarzo, a village in Lazio at the foot of Mount Cimino, possesses a unique work, the Villa of Marvels, also called the Sacred Wood or Park of Monsters. lt was designed by Prince Vicino Orsini and the great architect Pirro Ligorio in 1552.
The park is unique, even if it belongs to the erudite architectural-naturalistic culture of the second half of the sixteenth century. Refined ltalian style gardens follow geometric and perspective rationality with embellishments such as wide terraces, fountains with water games and mannerist sculptures. On the contrary the learned Prince of Bomarzo dedicated himself to creating an eccentric "wood" having the blocks of peperino emerging from the ground sculpted into enigmatic figures of monsters, dragons, mythological subjects and exotic animals, a crooked house, a funerary temple, fountains, seats and obelisks with carved mottoes and inscriptions.
The Sacred Wood is an unusual solution which does not follow sixteenth century usage; the different elements have no perspective relationship between each other and have no coherence or common proportions. Everything is invented with iconological criteria which escape even the most impassioned scholars, a labyrinth of symbols which envelopes anyone who enters. They inspired many artists at the time including Annibal Caro, Bitussi and Cardinal Madruzzo. After the death of Vicino Orsini nobody took charge of the place and it only began to be appreciated by intellectuals and artists such as Claude Lorrain, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Salvador Dali, Mario Praz and Maurizio Calvesi after centuries of neglect.
HOST: maybe is difficult to reach Bomarzo with public transport and a car will be necessary!
The Abbey of Montecassino is one of the most known Abbeys in the world.
In 529 Saint Benedict chose this mountain to build a monastery that would host him and those monks following him on the way from Subiaco. Paganism was still present here, but he managed to turn the place into a well-structured Christian monastery where everybody could have the dignity they deserved through praying and working.
Within the centuries the Abbey has met magnificence and destruction many times, and has always come out of its ruins stronger.
It is the faithful rebuilding of the twenty thousand square meters that people can see travelling on their way along the A1 Highway. Up on top of the 520 meters high mountain the monastery can easily be seen from far, making it a distinct landmark of the region.
HOST: Go with a car or leaving your car at home, you will experience that Cassino is also comfortably approachable by train from the main towns. A bus leaving from the train station reaches the Abbey at around 10:20 am, 12:50 pm and then at 4 pm. It leaves from the Monastery at 10:30 am, 1 pm and 5 pm
The terrible eruption of Vesuvius that buried Pompeii on August 24, 79 AD, has left to posterity the opportunity to experience and explore the city as it appeared to the ancient inhabitants just before the catastrophe. The Pompeians did not know that the "Mount Vesuvius" was a volcano. Pliny the Younger, a guest in the house of his uncle, Pliny the Elder, historian, scientist and commander of the naval base of Misenum, has left us a precious document that describes the days of the eruption ...