The garden in Villa d’Este, Tivoli, is one of the most remarkable and complete examples of Renaissance culture. The villa’s innovative design and the garden’s architectural components such as fountains, ornamental ponds, etc., make it a unique example of an Italian 16th-century garden. According to UNESCO’s statement, the garden in the Villa d’Este is one of the first wonder-gardens and became a model for the development of gardens all over Europe.
Some highlights about Historic Garden of Villa d’Este, in Tivoli (Italy)
UNESCO World Heritage Designation 2001, ref 1025
Piazza Trento, 5, 00019 Tivoli, Rome
Coordinates: 41.96331, 12.79580
Open in Google Maps
8.30am – 7.45pm (6.45pm last entry); on Monday 2pm – 7.45pm (6.45pm last entry)
Depending on the month, the garden closes at:
- January: 4.45pm
- February: 5.15pm
- March: 6.00pm (with the summer time 7.00pm)
- April 7.15pm
- From May through August: 7.30pm
- September: 7.00pm
- October: 6.15pm (with the winter time 5.15pm)
- November and December: 4.45pm
Phone: +39 0774312070, +39 0774768082
By car: from Rome along the SS 5 Tiburtina, or the A24 motorway, exit Tivoli.
By train: Rome-Sulmona-Pescara line, Tivoli station.
By bus: from Rome, Cotral line, Ponte Mammolo-Tivoli interchange node (Via Tiburtina or A24).
Villa d’Este, a 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 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 tunnelling beneath the city, evokes the engineering skill of the Romans themselves.
Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, after the disappointment of a failed bid for the papacy, brought back to life here the splendour of the courts of Ferrara, Rome and Fontainebleau and revived the magnificence of Villa Adriana. Governor of Tivoli from 1550, he immediately nurtured the idea of realising a garden in the hanging cliffs of the “Valle Gaudente”, but it was only after 1560 that his architectural and iconographic programme became clear—brainchild of the painter-architect-archeologist Pirro Ligorio and realised by court architect Alberto Galvani.
The rooms of the Palace were decorated under the tutelage of the stars of the late Roman Mannerism, such as Livio Agresti, Federico Zuccari, Durante Alberti, Girolamo Muziano, Cesare Nebbia and Antonio Tempesta. The work was almost complete at the time of the Cardinal’s death (1572).
From 1605 Cardinal Alessandro d’Este gave the go-ahead to a new programme of interventions not only to restore and repair the vegetation and the waterworks, but also to create a new series of innovations to the layout of the garden and the decorations of the fountains. Other works were carried out from 1660 – 70; these involved no less a figure than Gianlorenzo Bernini.
In the 18th century the lack of maintenance led to the decay of the complex, which was aggravated by the property’s passage to the House of Hapsburg. The garden was slowly abandoned, the water works- no longer used- fell into ruin, and the collection of ancient statues, enlarged under Cardinal Ippolito, was disassembled and scattered.
This state of decay continued without interruption until the middle of the XIXth century, when Gustav Adolf von Hohenlohe, who obtained in enfiteusi the villa from the Dukes of Modena in 1851, launched a series of works to pull the complex back from its state of ruin. Between 1867 and 1882 the Villa once again became a cultural point of reference, with the Cardinal frequently hosting the musician Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886), who composed Giochi d’acqua a Villa d’Este for piano while a guest here, and who in 1879 gave one of his final concerts.
At the outbreak of the First World War, the villa became a property of the Italian State, and during the 1920s it was restored and opened to the public. Another, radical restoration was carried out immediately after the Second World War to repair the damage caused by the bombing of 1944. Due to particularly unfavourable environmental conditions, the restorations have continued practically without interruption during the past twenty years (among these it is worth noting the recent cleaning of the Organ Fountain and also the “Birdsong.”)
It is worth noting that within Villa d’Este and Tivoli’s historical landscape there is Villa Adriana, the prestigious remains of an ancient villa built by the emperor Hadrian (Publius Aelius Hadrianus) between 118 and 138 AD.
Looking for a greener and water-rich territory, the emperor Hadrian moved his residence to Tivoli, 28 kms away from Rome. Here, on the tuff-rich banks of the river Aniene, at the foot of the Tiburtini Mountains, and on a plateau between two ditches, Villa Adriana was built, covering an area of nearly 120 hectares.
Another important monument within the garden in Villa d’Este’s landscape is the Sanctuary of Ercole Vincitore. Built during the 2nd century BC, it was one of the major sacred complexes of Roman architecture in the Republican era. It is an imposing structure, built with a series of terraces, overlooking the river Aniene developed along an ancient cattle route, later formalised as via Tiburtina.
Following its decline as place of worship, for centuries it was used used as a shelter, a convent, a foundry, a hydroelectric power station and ultimately paper factory. In the Middle Ages, Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, Governor of Tivoli, had his villa built in a borough of the city named the Valle Gaudente. Here, he employed teams of master builders to remodel the sloping landscape to make a terraced garden.