|The Dragon attacked by Lions in the Sacro Bosco
|The Clock Tower in Bagnaia
|Like entering my dreams, Bomarzo fulfills brings stories to life.
|A garden in Viterbo
|A villa I encountered on my walk to Bagnaia
|Sitting on the magnificent stone banquet table at the Villa Lante
|The edge of Bomarzo town
|Etruscan tombs at Orvieto in neighboring Umbria
|A view of the Sacro Bosco from the town of Bomarzo
|A door to a cave dwelling and a stone wall built over excavated Pecarino bedrock on the road in to town
|These curved stone steps, extending to the curb, left a lasting impression on me.
|The door to a cave at the end of a narrow alley
|The visible wear of centuries of footsteps on medieval houses in Bomarzo
He married Giulia Farnese, related to his influential friend Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who later became Pope Paul III. While he proved to be a good commander, he did not find comfort in the unjust things he saw inflicted on the battlefield in the name of wealthy, powerful religious figures. He was a prisoner of war, held for ransom for some time after being captured by German forces during the French/Spanish wars, and retired from service on his release over two years later.
|Looking across the valley to the Collina di Monte Casoli di Bomarzo
|Looking back at Bomarzo and the Villa Orsini
|Ancient Etruscan tombs carved in to volcanic boulders
|A contemporary sculpture framing an old piece of statuary stands by the parking area.
Having been lost to obscurity for over 400 years, the abandoned gardens gained notoriety when they were visited by the surrealist artist Salvador Dali and his friend, the art collector Mario Praz in 1938. They made a short film while there that captured the essence of their experience. The bizarre nature of the garden and its fantastical sculptures were a great inspiration for Dali, and it is said that elements of his stilt legged elephant painting, "The Temptation of Saint Anthony were derived from the Sacro Bosco.
|The unassuming entrance to the ticket office.
|A plan of the Sacro Bosco at Bomarzo
The first things you encounter when you pass through the gate are a pair of sphinxes that were most likely moved from another part of the garden at what is believed to be the original entrance down by the Leaning House. Inscriptions on the bases set a cryptic tone for the realm you've just entered. "Whoever without raised eyebrows and pursed lips goes through this place will fail to admire the famous seven wonders of the world." This is excerpted from Orlando Furioso, a series of cantos that had significant influence on the embellishment of the park. On the base of the other sphinx, "you who enter here put your mind to it part by part and tell me then if so many wonders are made as trickery or as art". Vicino was justly proud of his strange manifestations and their ability to astound. The garden was built in direct contrast to the more formal Mannerist gardens of the time. Perhaps the line from the opening of Dante's Divine Comedy inspired his creation: "Midway on the journey of our life, I found myself in a dark wood, where the straight road was lost."
|A lake, no longer existent acted as a reservoir that supplied water to the elaborate fountains found throughout the gardens.
|A toppled tomb alludes to the ruin of time
|Stone blocks form a terrace surrounding a boulder carved with an inscription
|The head of Cacus?
|Backside of the Wrestling Giants
|The Tortoise and Orc and the edge of the Pegasus fountain
|The Tortoise with a statue of Nike standing on an orb
|The Whale/Orcus has an inscription obscured by moss that translates to "All Thoughts Fly"
|The Pegasus Fountain
|The trunk of the Myrtle Tree, which the sorceress Alcina turned the knight Adolfo in to.
|A waterfall cascades over a stone terrace
|A witch house and paths at the Enchanted Forest south of Salem, Oregon
|I'm not sure what this is, a grinding mortar, or a space ship to the moon
|The two caretakers
|A stone boat with dolphin fountains
|Looking from the other direction
|Sculpted benches on either side of the path create spaces for intimate conversation and dalliances.
|A caryatid bracket set on it's side to frame a bench.
Behind one of these benches on the uphill side is a niche containing a relief of the Three Graces, voluptuous nude attendants of the Goddess Venus. This tryptic has multiple connotations, relating to the planets Jupiter, Venus, and the Sun, friendship, commeradary, and alchemy, and bearing good fortune and health on those who experience the sacred wood.
|A lion and bench, with the Three Graces and Nymphaum behind.
Life is a journey and the paths through this garden lead you to face the monsters that await to confront you.
|Rustic steps made of logs and rough stones
|The sleeping or dying Nymph watched over by a dog
|The loyal protection afforded by the attentive dog allows the Nymph to drift safely away in to a world of dreams.
|The Nymph's hand, beautifully patinaed with moss and lichen
|A mask with the curled horns of a ram once spilled water in to this pool.
The Sacro Bosco was built as a place to entertain guests, to share ideas and the philosophical ideals expressed in literature and soul searching. In winter, the hazelnut trees are in bloom with pale yellow catkins dangling like ornaments. These beautifully frame the the statue of a solumn looking woman who once held a basin from which water fell. Her arms broke off perhaps centuries ago along with whatever it was she was holding.
She stands atop a winged dragon like creature. There is speculation that this image represents the Egyptian goddess Isis because of the creature she stands on. Isis was the most revered of Egyptian Goddesses during Roman times. A series of holes around the perimeter of the arch may have been fountain jets spraying a web of water around her.
|The winged dragon like creature on which the woman is standing.
Directly opposite the Herms are 7 empty niches that may have once held statues. Giant Etruscan style urns stand along the top of the wall backing the theater. A set of wide stepped terraces surounds an ovate space with a sloped central surface which once contained a fountain. Two rectangular column bases frame the steps with inscriptions, one which contains line "Sol per sfogar il Coro", "Only to unburden the heart."
|The Theater and the Leaning House
|The terrace viewed from a window in the leaning house.
|The Leaning House
There is a plaque with an octopus carved on to it on the bottom corner of the building and a staircase leading up in to the interior.
|An Octopus ornaments a shield attached to the corner of the Leaning House
|The base of a scrolled plaque on the Leaning House
|The tilted view of the Theater from the Leaning House
|The Leaning House
|Stairs at the base of the Leaning House
|A praying woman next to a Christ on the cross
To his left, the head of a giant fish or dolphin rises from the ground, its mouth open wide enough to enter. Water may have cascaded over the rough hewn stones in to the curved basin below the River God.
|The River God and a giant fish
|The River God
|Looking down from above the River God fountain to the Xystus and Hannibal's elephant.
It discusses what kind of elephants Hannibal may have used, as larger African elephants do not domesticate like smaller Asian elephants. The sculpture in the Sacro Bosco has the stature and size of an African elephant.
|Hannibal's Elephant rising above the row of funerary urns
Carthage was a kingdom located in North Africa in what is Tunisia today.
|A Roman soldier being picked up by the trunk of the elephant.
|Tassles hang from the caparison, draped over the rear of the elephant.
The dragon's mouth is agape, looking like it would be emitting a scream as the lions bite at its leg and breast.
|The shreiking dragon
|The dragon's tail wraps around a lion cub, like the elephant holding the Roman soldier in its trunk.
|A bearded bust on a Herm found in the Xytus
|A recliining Goddess
|Four winged half boy-half fish wrestle behind the Goddess, holding someone upside down over the now empty pool.
|The path passing behind the fountain of Demeter and around to the infamous Ogre.
|The Mouth of Hell
|The Orcus or Mouth of Hell
Inside, the eyes and mouth allow enough light in to the interior to dimly illuminate the space. The table is curved at the end like a tongue. The narrow benches on either side seem too far removed to use as a proper picnic table, which it is often referred to.
|The table and benches inside the Mouth of Hell
|The giant vase
|Acorns and Pine Cones
|An Orsini Bear and the Hippodrome
There are two statues of small standing bears at the entrance, literally Orsini in Italian, which are symbols of the family name. One holds the family crest, and the other a rose, which was also associated with the family.
Behind the bears are two of the more bizarre features of the garden, a two tailed mermaid and a winged woman with a dragons tail. Between them are two lions with cubs. The perimeter around the lions is recessed and may have contained water and fountains.
The mermaid or siren gazes straight ahead with her arms resting on her wide spread tails, which are also benches. Fluid carvings of hair frame a vaginal opening through which the terrace can drain. This type of figure can be found carved on Etruscan funerary urns and is depicted in architecture found in Tuscany to the north.
|A two tailed mermaid and pair of lions with cubs
Across from her on the other side of the pair of lions lies winged Fury. She has claws and a long scaly tail that twists up the wall like a serpent. She two has a calm face that gazes straight forward and a now broken basket like crown. Her wing is webbed like that of a dragon.
|An inscription carved in to a flattened boulder by the Hippodrome.
Behind the Persephone bench, two sets of stairs climb the hill. The one to the left is watched over by a Cerberus, a three headed guardian of the entrance to the underworld, preventing the dead from leaving.
|Stairs leading to the highest level of the garden, passing the Cerberus
|The three headed dog, Cerberus, guardian of the gates of the Underworld.
Climbing the stairs past the 3 headed dog guarding the gates of the Underworld leads to the highest terrace, from which the Rotunda protrudes.
|Steps winding around the side of the Rotunda
|The ruins of the Meta Sudans fountain next to the Colosseum in Rome from a photo taken in 1858
|Fountain basin in the Rotunda, perhaps once a miniature of the Meta Sudans in Rome
I came upon another bench carved from a boulder outcrop, with a two coats of arms and stone pillows, which I thought were very clever. Something soft made from something very hard.
|A stone bench with stone pillows
|Lichen covered scroll work on the bench
|A coat of arms with an eagle
The small domed chapel is closed to the public and contains the remains of Giovanni Bettini and his wife Tina, and presumably those of Giulia Farnese. The Tempieto was meant to be the final desination of the fantastic journey visitors had navigated through the Sacro Bosco, no doubt wholly changed by the experience.
|The front facade of the Tempietto
|Detail of the vault in the Tempietto
|Inside the porch of the Tempietto
|A gate at the top of the garden
|A herm, a woman's bust with a vase on her head
|A wall detail
When I got back to the entrance, I continued down the straight path to finally see the outrageously carved head Proteus, or Glauco. There was once a shallow, rectangular pool that would have reflected this incredible face with a mouth large enough to swallow two people. There are varied explanations for the story behind this gape toothed monster. If called Proteus, he would be a god of rivers and oceans. These waters are subject to constant and sometimes violent change, requiring mutability. The face has similarities to the Mouth of Hell, with a frame of scale like shapes rather than tangled hair. They could suggest a sea creature with bulging eyes and flared nostrils. On his head balances a striped globe with a castle on top, the crest of the branch of the family, Orsini da Castello. There are remnants of red pigment painted on the stripes. This was a corner of the property and this may have acted as a boundary marker with a fearful guardian watching over the edge of the Sacro Bosco's domaine.
|The remains of a reflecting pool
|A side view detail
My journey was complete through the Sacro Bosco as a storm gathered over an imposing volcanic stone table mountain that makes up the nearby Riserva Naturale Monte Casoli di Bomarzo. No taxi was waiting for me when I got to the car park. It started to sprinkle as I climbed my way back up the road to the absolutely medieval looking town of Bomarzo on the hill.
|Bomarzo town in the distance.
|Statue of a Pope?
|Tightly clustered houses look out over the valley
|A warren of apartments
|A compass of cut stone and crudely set pebble mosaic
|Pebble mosaic star in front of the church
|The church that Giulia Farnese commissioned in Bomarzo town.
|A pebbled threshold to a public building
|A nice mixture of cobbles and pebble mosaic remeniscent of something I would build.
|A medieval doorway
It was dark by the time we got back to Viterbo and I was exhausted. But what a day it was!
Thanks for reading, Jeffrey
|To Hell and back
|Salvador Dali 1938. The mouth once had bottom teeth