This garden lies in the town of Bagnaia, Lazio. It is one of the best remaining examples of a Renaissance garden in Italy and dates from the 1560s.
Travelling to Villa Lante
Bagnaia is a small town, tucked away in the hills. However, the roads are reasonable and it is a very scenic drive. From Rome, travelling north on the E35, Viterbo is the nearest large town that is clearly signed. Don’t expect many tourist signs – this garden, considering its historic significance and reputation, is seemingly not as well-known or publicised in Italy. (Visit www.fasano-italy.co.uk for travel tips in Italy).
On arrival, there are no huge car parks, gift shops or cafes affiliated with the gardens. It is possible to park a small distance away or to park on the street (abandon the car, Italian-style). A small gift shop in a side street is the only sign of commercialisation. Tickets can be purchased from a booth in the walls and are surprisingly cheap, just 2 euros (2008) which compares incredibly favourably with prices in the UK where entrance to a garden of similar status would cost at least £8. In late April, it was quiet although in Summer it probably attracts more visitors.
History of Villa Lante
Renaissance gardens were designed as statements of power and wealth. They are more important than the houses of the time and dominate the landscape. Villa Lante’s formal terraces rise up from the town which was redesigned during the same period but which still has a very medieval feel to it. The garden originated as a medieval hunting park but was added to by successive cardinals in the 15th century. Cardinal Gambara owned the Villa in the Renaissance and is thought to have commissioned Vignola to design the garden in the middle of the 16th century. The garden has not changed significantly since this time and, understandably, is beginning to show its age.
Features of the Renaissance Garden at Villa Lante
The movement of water and the play of light more than compensate for the lack of flower colour typical of the Renaissance garden. Classical statuary abounds, emulating the Roman gardens that were re-discovered and plundered during this period.There are several terraces. The lower terrace is filled with ornately clipped box hedging around a central water feature with stone boats. The top terrace has a famous fountain depicting the river gods.
Below this is a terrace with a long trough whose primary function was to act as a wine cooler during festivities. Water is a key element in the Renaissance Garden and Villa Lante is no exception. Considering that the fountains are all gravity-fed, the detail and amount of water is amazing. That most still work is even more so. On one terrace are the remains of a ‘play area’ where the water would surprise guests by squirting out from between the paving.
For garden historians, the frescoes in the entrance building depicting other villas that the family owned are fascinating. Apparently one of the 20th century owners of the villa used this building to store his collection of vintage cars… sacrilege!
Renaissance Gardens to Visit in Lazio and Tuscany
There are three key Renaissance gardens in the same area. Visiting Villa Lante and the Parco dei Mostri (Sacro Bosco) at Bomarzo is possible in the same day and will give enough time at each. Italian garden tours that offer coach trips to take in Villa Lante, Villa Farnese and Parco dei Mostri are also available. For a complete contrast to the formality of the Renaissance, the Tarot Garden in Capalbio created by the artist, Niki de Saint Phalle is also worth visiting and is possible in the same day.
Villa Lante should be more popular as a destination. To preserve the garden, restoration and maintenance are constantly needed. Italy has so much cultural heritage that a garden like this is vying for attention with many other historic sites. Although these Renaissance gardens are unique, they perhaps receive less attention than the Roman antiquities across Italy. Please visit and spread the word about this gem of a garden.