The Villa d'Este in Tivoli is a masterpiece of Italian architecture and especially garden design. Its mixture of architectural elements and water features had an enormous influence on European landscape design.
The villa was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este, son of Alfonso I d'Este and Lucrezia Borgia and grandson of Pope Alexander VI. He had been appointed Governor of Tivoli. From 1550 until his death in 1572, when the villa was nearing completion, Cardinal d'Este created a palatial setting surrounded by a spectacular terraced garden in the late-Renaissance mannerist style, which took full advantage of the dramatic slope but required innovations in bringing a sufficient water supply, which was employed in cascades, water tanks, troughs and pools, water jets and fountains.
Map of Villa d'EsteLoad map
In June 2018, after visiting Villa Adriana and Villa Gregoriana and enjoying pasta on a terrace in the centre of Tivoli, I now had to explore the gardens of Villa D'Este to complete the hat trick. So I walked from the centre of the small town to the Renaissance palace. The frescoed walls and ceilings in the palace are pretty, but don't stand out from the crowd, especially in Italy. It is nevertheless pleasant to walk through the rooms of the building. However, the highlight is the garden. Large trees and well-trimmed hedges overhang and surround hundreds of fountains.
Although the Fontana dell'Organo was not in operation at the time of my visit, I enjoyed admiring the other works of art. After all, that's what these fountains are! The Fontana Di Tivoli (or dell'Ovato), the Fontana di Nettuno and the Viale delle Cento Fontane are the most beautiful in my opinion. They are original, make clever use of water and are full of sculptures and small details. The others, in the four corners of the garden, are not to be overlooked, however, and are well worth a look. The use of vegetation enhances many of these, although the plants could do with more flowers. The Fontana della Rometta, in the southern corner of the garden, also has an interesting layout. The many paths that criss-cross the site offer several fine views, not only of the garden but also of the valley below. On another note, as noted by Els six years earlier, many of the fountains were not working and deserved some love. A thunderstorm arrived as I was finishing my visit and I was able to get to the shelter of the bus before the deluge.
In conclusion, Villa D'Este is a very pleasant visit and contains a huge number of fountains. However the site is rather small. Just over an hour is needed for an in-depth visit. Also, the palace is not particularly remarkable. So, although I enjoyed my visit, I question the OUV of this Villa. I am far from being an expert on the history of the Italian Renaissance, but I got the impression that this garden was more the work of an extravagantly wealthy owner than an ensemble with a strong universal significance.
Nevertheless, it is rather easy to visit the three Tivoli villas and all three are worth a visit. I unintentionally visited the sites in order from my favourite to the one that attracted me the least.
There is no doubt that Villa d'Este is a beautiful site, a fine house with gardens sloping down a hillside overlooking the Italian countryside. The town of Tivoli itself, surrounding the villa, is rather spectacularly set in the Sabine Hills east of Rome, overlooking the falls of the Aniene River. It is quite easy to see why this area was favored as a retreat by church and state in Rome -- it feels a world away from the eternal city.
I visited Villa d'Este in November last year. Perhaps autumn is an off season, but I had to adjust my hopes for this site when I arrived at the ticket office and learned that none of the fountains would be running, as they were under repair. For me, this was a bit like my first visit to Versailles, a weekday with no grand fountains on display. Except that the villa is in no way comparable to the richly ornate Palace of Versailles. The fountains are the main draw to the Villa d'Este, and without them, I was left wanting more.
That said, the gardens on a fall day were beautiful to walk through, and I could imagine what the fountains would look like were they operating in their cascades and grottoes. The gardens also weren't terribly crowded in November (perhaps because visitors knew in advance the fountains were not working?), so I never felt crowded wandering the grounds. Still, just like the Palace of Versailles, I know I'll have to return one day to experience the full beauty of this site.
Logistics: The Villa d'Este is an easy walk through town from the Tivoli train station; Tivoli can also be reached from Rome by bus or via private transportation.
Tivoli is a relatively short train ride from Rome and has been a popular destination for excursions and a countryside residence for Romans since ancient times. While the Villa Adriana is a few kilometres outside the centre, Villa d'Este is right in the centre. Commissioned by a Renaissance cardinal, it is considered to be the defining masterpiece of Italian landscape architecture and garden design. The garden is indeed very pleasant for a stroll, full of fountains, ponds and other water features, although I visited a bit too early (in early March) to enjoy the full spring bloom. The villa itself, though, was not particularly impressive, and can be skipped if you are short on time. Besides the 2 villas inscribed on the WH list, Tivoli features a third one that is in my opinion the equal of the other 2 - the Villa Gregoriana, famous for its unique combination of a natural landscape and one altered by men since antiquity. I certainly enjoyed my walk down to the valley floor and up again on the other side, always admiring viewpoints, caves, waterfalls, and a number of manmade structures. It has been on Italy's tentative list for a long time, but I doubt that UNESCO would inscribe a third separate site in such a small town - an extension of Villa d'Este would be justified, though.
I visited this WHS in March 2014. I went there early to beat the crowds and I enjoyed the Fontana deli Organi at 10.30am. The villa interior reminded me of Ferrara's Castello Estense. The highlights of the Renaissance gardens are the Rometta, Neptune's Fountain and the Cento Fontane. Although I enjoyed my visit, the Villa gardens weren't very well kept for a WHS especially when it costs 8 euros to visit!
The Villa d'Este lies in the center of Tivoli. Due to its proximity to Rome I guess, it attracts more than half a million visitors a year. It's a bit of an old-fashioned tourist attraction, the main point of interest is its garden with water features. I stayed in a B&B within walking distance, and so was able to get in before 9 a.m. This way I had the whole garden to myself, except for a cat that sought my companionship.
I roamed around for about 1.5 hours. The differences in height make for good exercise, and the site has enough on offer to pleasantly surprise now and then. The most impressive parts I found were the Organ Fountain and the one representing Rome. I did a quick tour through the villa as well. Every room is covered in wall paintings.
After a while, I became aware that parts of the site actually are quite run-down, or need more care than they're getting now. About a third of the fountains were not working (especially the smaller ones). I don't know if this is a case of "the tourists will come anyway, so why bother", or that a severe lack of funds is hindering the upkeep of the site. Surely there could be made more out of it than is now.
This villa clearly receives the larger share of visitors to Tivoli. The gardens seem to be the main attraction of course with their flowing waterfalls and fountains. Few visitors seemed to venture inside the villa though, but I found it worthwhile to see the palatial frescoed home of Cardinal d'Este.
I reached Piazza Garibaldi in Tivoli by bus from outside Ponte Mammolo metro station.
We finally got there after many, many past trips to Rome and surroundings. We should have gone sooner!! Breathtaking and really an architectural marvel. It just goes to prove that tourists need to get away from the cities and discover sites on "the roads less travelled" like this one. I now recommend a tour of the Castelli Romani and Villa D'Este/Tivoli, in particular, to all my friends who are heading to Rome. It is well worth the effort to get there.
One of the more breathtaking experiences of my life. The combination of tranquility and chaos that the water features bring about is something everyone should be so lucky to experience.
Villa d'Este will always have a special spot in my memories!
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Temporarily combined into a single TWHS with Villa Gregoriana until just before inscription in 2001, after having been listed alone from 1984
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