Located in Tivoli, approximately 16 miles outside of Rome, is the beautiful Renaissance Villa d’Este. It was built in 1550 by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, a member of one of the oldest and noblest Italian families, and son to Lucrezia Borgia and Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara. Through his mother he was the grandson of the infamous Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI.
Together with his architect Pirro Ligorio, Cardinal d’Este created a space that combined the luxury of ancient Roman palaces with contemporary comfort. The ancient Roman element was achieved with some efficiency by simply ransacking the ruins of an actual Roman palace close by – Hadrian’s Villa
. Cardinal d’Este took marble and sculpture from the site to ornament his new home.
The resulting décor of the villa is a mixture of classical sculpture and Renaissance art, and naturally the d’Este eagle, which was the family sigil, adorns much of the property. There are fascinating mosaics, such as the piece in the Grotto of Diana which depicts mythological scenes of the hunt goddess. The villa overlooks the sloping gardens, and from its terraces you can get some spectacular views of the scenery.
The gardens, with their marvellous complex of fountains, troughs, cascades, jets and pools, are a feat of hydraulic engineering. Among the most impressive is the Fountain of the Ephesian Goddess, who spouts water from each of her 16 breasts. The Fontana del Bicchierone is a fantastic seashell-inspired goblet designed by the indomitable Bernini, more of whose sculpture can be seen at Galleria Borghese
. The Rometta Fountain represents Rome as a goddess; Ligorio’s Fontana dell’Ovato shows Venus emerging from her famous seashell. These two are linked by an avenue called Le Cento Fontane (Hundred fountains), which features around one hundred fountains in the shapes of boats, lilies, obelisks, and, of course, eagles, gurgling into a long channel. This is a truly magical place, and a masterpiece of Renaissance gardening.