If you have ever been on a historic tour then you may think that people in the old days were just a little boring. If you have seen one victorian or renaissance garden you have seen them all. That is until you visit the garden of Bomarzo, Italy. The spectacular garden was almost forgotten to history but recently rediscovered. Around every corner is something strange and fantastic.
Bomarzo is a small town in Italy, located North of Rome with a population of fewer than 2,000 people. There is little of interest in the sleepy town of Bomarzo until you find yourself in the Bosco Sacro, or the Sacred Grove. To many, the sacred grove is also called the Park of Monsters due to the incredible sculptures that lie within.
The park was designed by Pier ‘Vicino’ Francesco Orsini between 1550 and 1580. He spent thirty years of his life dedicated to the park after his wife died. In her absence, it was the only thing that could give him joy. He originally wanted to please her with the park but when she passed away it became his obsession. Vicino was described as an eccentric nobleman and when he went to fought in a war and was captured, he spent three years in prison. He returned a more eccentric man than ever and his strange passions are perfectly represented in the garden’s random appeal.
As you walk through the garden you will see sculptures of giant turtles, elephants, Greek gods and more. The layout of the park is completely random likely decided upon by where the rock was already laying. The images too, have no clear pattern to them so whatever message Vicino was trying to convey is not so clear.
The highlight of the garden to most people is the amazing mouth of hell that has been carved out. It is a horrific man’s face with the mouth open as the door to hell and steps leading to it. There is an inscription on the sculpture that says ‘All Reason Departs’ in Latin. A likely reference to the suffering of hell but also possible to the lack of meaning in the forest itself.
On the entrance to the garden, another inscription reads ‘You who enter this place, observe it piece by piece and tell me afterwards whether so many marvels were created for deception or purely art.’ It appears that Vicino was playing with his audience. It appears that he has purposefully created the garden to be a random collection of triumph and misery, to confuse and puzzle those who come across it. It would have confused many and delighted a special few. One of those who it certainly delighted was Salvador Dali.
Although the garden was completed in the 1500s, after Vicino died, no one cared for it. The family was not proud of the garden and they let it overgrow for many years. It was only when Dali visited the garden in 1938 that it started to find fame once again. He made a short film there and one of his greatest works ‘The Temptation of Saint Anthony’ was said to be inspired by the elephant sculpture that is in the garden.
Whether the garden was an offering to his late wife, the last production of a man descending into madness, a criticism of renaissance art or simply a bit of fun, it has certainly left an impression on many people. If you do find yourself near Rome, it is worth the short trip to see the incredible gardens and see if it inspires you. Enjoy the park of monsters and make sure you ponder whether this wonder is art or deception.