Bagnaia’s garden oasis
Tucked away in a quaint little town in Central Italy, is a villa that boasts a Renaissance garden that is beautifully detailed and wonderfully kept.
By Danielle Gullaci
Those that have never heard of the medieval town of Bagnaia in Italy’s Lazio region are probably not alone. Though the majority of visitors to Italy would venture into Lazio, it is most often to visit the Italian capital of Rome, where attractions like the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and nearby Vatican City are among the country’s most famous tourism drawcards.
But for those that dare to travel off the tourist track, Lazio has a great deal more to see and discover.
Bagnaia is nestled in Lazio’s northernmost province, Viterbo, just four kilometres away from its capital. Found at the foot of the Cimini Mountains, this gorgeous little town is home to Villa Lante, which features an impressive Italian garden.
Here, visitors are greeted by the relaxing sound of water trickling and fountains gurgling, and a maze of green hedges. It is an enchanting escape from the outside world, where the joys of nature and the work of man combine.
Dating back to the 16th century, Villa Lante is home to several artistic fountains, spread over several levels. It is actually the gardens, not the villa, that have made this such an important and celebrated local attraction.
The so-called villa is actually made up of two twin buildings or casini, Italian for cottages, originally built as a summer residence for the Bishop of Viterbo.
Cardinal Riario had built himself a hunting lodge on the property. Then Cardinal Francesco de Gambara, who was his successor, was impressed by the beauty of the site and decided it was the perfect spot to build his villa.
He focused a great deal of attention on the fountains, water features, hedges and labyrinths, with his vision believed to have been brought to fruition by architect Giacomo Barozzi, known as Vignola. A great Italian architect of his time, his masterpieces include Villa Farnese in the province of Viterbo and the Church of the Gesù in Rome.
And though the twin buildings were built years apart, their design is almost identical. Both have triple-arched loggias, decorated with frescoes, that look out towards the gardens.
In Villa Lante’s peaceful garden setting, water trickles from the fountains that are decorated with groups of statues and sculptures. These were made from a type of volcanic rock called peperino, which comes from the nearby Cimino Volcano, and the Laziale Volcano just south of Rome. It is grey in colour, has a rough texture and is resistant to weather, making it an ideal choice for many important works of the time. In addition to being used for fountains, peperino was often used to protect the foundations of public buildings. Over in the small nearby town of Vitorchiano, this type of rock was used as a main building material throughout the entire historic centre.
Built across several tiers, each level of Villa Lante’s gardens offers a view of the space that are all very different but equally pleasing.
The Fontana del Pegaso, or the Fountain of Pegasus, sits just outside the garden, at the entrance to the grounds.
Once inside, the first level terrace is divided into several smaller squares, with a formal garden arranged around the Fontana dei Quattro Mori, or Fountain of the Four Moors, by celebrated sculptor Giambologna. The richly decorated fountain consists of four basins, with the lower of these covered by a large area of water complete with boats made of stone.
On the terrace above, the Fontana dei Lumini, or Fountain of the Lamps, is a circular tiered fountain with water coming out of its 70 jets. The smaller fountains within this piece look like Roman oil lamps, spouting out water. As the sun hits these ‘oil lamps’, it gives the impression that they have been illuminated, hence the name.
Walking up to the terrace on the next level, is the garden’s dining room. Its centerpiece is an elaborate, large stone table containing a central water channel that would be used to keep wine cool during the heat of summer.
In times gone by, cardinals would use this alfresco dining space to entertain their guests. One can only imagine the elaborate feasts that would have been enjoyed in this very spot, among the spectacular garden setting, to the sound of water trickling in the background.
To read the full story, pick up your copy of the January/February issue of Italianicious.