"You that are wandering through the world, willing to see high and splendid marvels, do come here where there are horrible faces, elephants, lions, bears, ogres and dragons"
--Carved into a stone bench at Bomarzo
Bomarzo is a town just over 42 miles northwest of Rome in the province of Viterbo that holds a surprise for the visitor willing to go against the grain of the average tourist. About 400 feet below the historic town center is a place here where creatures are gigantic, where mouths of monsters can swallow you alive, where a tilted house leans so far over for fear that it will collapse any second, and where Titans eternally clash. This place has many names perhaps because it has left many impressions in the minds and hearts of visitors. Often it's simply called the Garden of Bomarzo. Some call it Bosco Sacro (Sacred Woods) perhaps because they were enlightened by the magical fantasies here nearly hidden by nature for hundreds of years. Still others call it Bosco dei Mostri (Monsters' Woods), named for the hellish, monstrous larger than life sculptures of giants, animals and grotesques whose domain this is.
The Bomarzo monsters are the work of Pier Francesco Orsini, called Vicino (1528–1588), a patron of the arts, he dedicated the garden to his wife Giulia Farnese, daughter of Galeazzo Farnese, Duke of Latera. What a strange garden to be created in memory of someone... one wonders, what strange memories did he have? It's said that Pirro Ligorio, designed the garden and its creatures, who later continued the work of Michelangelo at the Vatican. The gardens took 30 years to build, almost half of Orsini's life.
To many, this place is fun, to others it's a scary place. The monsters are and beasts magnificent and huge. Hannibal's war elephant is carrying a just-killed Roman soldier in his trunk. Next is a tilting building, called Casa Storta or Twisted House. Push on one side to hold it up, push on the other and perhaps it will fall. The Titans are in mortal combat. Elsewhere, you'll see Pegasus taking flight. Winged griffins and a snake-legged goddess await to shock your soul.
There seems to be no real plan of the placement of the monstrosities... they are randomly positioned in the garden. The symmetry of garden design popular during the period it was built is nowhere to be seen. There is nothing orderly here, just surprise and shock. There is an inscription on one monument that says Just to set the heart free.
After Orsini’s death this strange garden was abandoned and fell into decay. The forest began to reclaim the place with vines, moss and lichen growing over his creatures. The half-camouflaged monsters must have seemed much more frightening to locals who happened upon the place, a source for many wild tales and superstitions about the monsters and the garden.
In 1951, Giovanni Bettini, a real estate agent, traveling around Italy discovered the place and saw the magic in it. He purchased and restored Bomarzo, freeing the beasts and monsters from the woodlands grasp. Today, the garden received 40,000 visitors a year.
Nonetheless, Vicino Orsini was a visionary when he created the garden. No one knows what was in his mind or heart--light or darkness--when he conceived of the creatures the garden possesses. He ordered the following to be cut into stone, “Thou, who enter this garden, be very attentive and tell me then if these marvels have been created to deceive visitors, or for the sake of art”.
Why go where the typical tourist is going when there are treasures like this in Italy? Just 42 miles from Rome awaits this fantasy...
Contatti Parco dei Mostri
loc. Giardino s.n.c
From Italy Magazine:
Thanks to the opening of areas previously closed to the public, the visit of Castel Sant’Angelo is now longer and more complete, turning into a trip through Rome’s history.
One of the most popular sights in Italy, with approximately 1.2 million visitors a year, Castel Sant’Angelo is one of Rome’s most iconic monuments. It was built by emperor Hadrian in the second century as a mausoleum for himself and his family (in fact it also goes by the name of Mausoleum of Hadrian). Through the centuries, it underwent a series of transformations, from monumental tomb to inaccessible fortress, from prison and torture chamber to papal residence in the Renaissance, from military barracks to national museum.
Read More at Italy Magazine...
Once of the most interesting, historic, centrally located, and rustic Off the Tourist Path places to visit in Italy is the cliff-top,village of Pitigliano in the Grossetto district at the southernmost border of Tuscany. Located about a 2-1/2 hour drive from either Florence or Rome, this is a perfect place to use as a base for a longer (2-3 week stay) in Italy. There are an amazing number of unique things to do and see in the immediate area, and day trips to Rome, Florence, Pisa, Siena or other Tuscan towns are very doable. The town was literally carved from the volcanic tufa rock it sits upon, with the entire town sitting above a series of tunnels and caves containing wine cellars, underground chapels, shrines, tombs and barns. Many of the homes are hybrid in this respect, some rooms are essentially caves carved from the mountain, while other rooms were built of stone on top of the cliff.
Pitigliano and its area can be considered the heart of Italy, where the Etruscans lived around 800 BC, long before the Ancient Romans. It is said that many of its structures today date from the Middle Ages, circa 1000 BC. In the 13th century, its medieval life was supported by the noble Aldobrandeschi family and was the capital of the surrounding countryside. In 1293 its rule passed to the Orsini family, which began a 150 year war with the feudal state of Siena. In 1455, Pitigliano was placed under the sovereignty and protection of Siena. Later on, it fell under the rule of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany (1562), and finally united with the Kingdom of Italy.
Some of the underground caves of Pitigliano
Pitigliano, has been a home to Jews as early as the end of the fifteenth century. This tiny state allowed the refuge of several Jewish families, who worked primarily as money lenders. There were enough Jews to afford the construction of a Temple in 1598. In the seventeenth century, however, the Medici and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany ordered that the Jews be confined to a ghetto. Soon after, realizing the Jews contribution to their economy, the Jews were given more privileges, including the right to own property. There was a steady migration of Jews from surrounding communities and the Jewish population grew. By the eighteenth century, Pitigliano had the only remaining Jewish community in Maremma in south-eastern Tuscany. After this, the coexistence of of Christians and Jews was so entwined in the town, that it was given the nickname of Little Jerusalem.
Via Cava - The Cave Roads of Tuscany
Since the time of the Etruscans, the Via Cava were carved from the volcanic tufa rock to connect villages in the area of Pitigliano for trade. Many are original from Etruscan times, while others have been continually carved and deepened either by man or erosion. These are amazing roads to travel, often appearing as chasms 50 feet deep, and others winding through leaning cliffs causing the trekker to ponder what lies around the next turn.
Today, Voyagers can visit and hike the caves by foot, ride through on mountain bikes or go on horseback. You will find a mix of Etruscan history, early pagan and Christian tombs and chapels, and more. Well worth a visit: the Citta del Tufo Archaeological Park.
Sovana and Sorano and More
In the surrounding area, there is a lot to see. The nearby villages of Sovana and Sorano are connected by the Via Cava and although they are both tiny villages, have a lot to offer.
Little is know about the beginnings of Sorano but its roots more than likely are with the iron age Villanovans, with Etruscans coming soon after. During Roman times, there is little known of the village, but in 862 AD came under the protection of the Aldobrandeschi family. The main sights are the Rocca degli Orsini (Castle Orsini) and the Masso Leopoldino, a terrace atop the natural outcrop of the mountain that was carved to appear like a massive fortress from a distance by Gran Duke Leopold. It has all the defensive looks of a fortress without all the expense of soldiers and weaponry. Genius. Below the town are beautiful stretches of the Via Cava and many archaeological sites.
If you stay in Pitigliano for an extended period, there are many side trips and day trips you can take. A little more than a half-hour's drive away is Saturnia, a natural hot spring--with both formal chic spas and natural springs that locals use for free. Another half-hour to the east is the lake town of Capodimonte, the largest town on the banks of Lake Bolsena, an 8 mile wide lake in an ancient volcano's caldera. And winin an hour and a half drive you can visit the wine towns of Montalcino, Montepulcino, and Pienza of Pecorino cheese fame (and our choice for a "perfect" Tuscan village). If you're a romantic and want to experience the Under the Tuscan Sun (video on Amazon) lifestyle in Cortona (even though it's VERY touristy due to the film), it's about a 2 hour drive from Pitigliano. And you're about 1 hour from the 6000 foot tall Monte Amiata, where you can ski in winter and enjoy hiking and mountain biking in summer.
Here's a sampling of the unique rental apartments available in Pitigliano, from $50 to just over $100 per night... on AirBNB: