Like a garden of monsters.
Sprawling over several thickly wooded acres near the town of Bomarzo, Italy, lies a fantastical collection of giant stone sculptures – and they’ve been lurking there among the trees for five centuries.
|The Ogre features a picnic table on its tongue with enough room for a group of friends to sit down for lunch. |
But be warned: the inscription reads "ALL REASON DEPARTS"
|A war elephant kills a Roman soldier.|
From the sphinx that guards the entrance to the crazily tilted stone house, from the war elephant mauling a dead soldier to a giant tearing another in half, from mythological creatures to some better suited to Dante’s Inferno, all seemed randomly positioned throughout the garden with no particular relationship to each other.
But they were not the work of an amateur.
Prince Orsini had hired artist Pirro Ligorio to bring his unusual vision to life. Formerly the official Architect of the Vatican Palace for two popes, Ligorio worked on the Cathedral of St. Peter in Rome after the death of Michelangelo. He turned his attention to Orsini’s pet project and designed the sculptures in the “Mannerist” style, an early version of surrealism.
One of the many different inscriptions throughout the vast garden puts it best: "It resembles only itself and nothing else."
|A giant tries to tear another apart.|
The most popular story claims that the prince created the garden as an expression of despair and grief due to the death of his wife – but as tragically romantic as that might sound, his wife didn’t actually die until 1560. The park was never open to the public during Orsini’s lifetime, only shared privately with artistic and literary friends.
When the prince himself passed on sometime after 1580, his strange garden was abandoned by his heirs and forgotten. Overgrown by the forests, it would take over three hundred years before it was rediscovered! The Bettini family acquired the “The Villa of Marvels” in 1870 but the local population already had their own name for it: Paco dei Mostri – "Park of the Monsters".
|A dragon battles with a massive dog.|
Word spread. Artists, composers, and writers began making pilgrimages again, including Salvador Dali in 1938. He was impressed enough to make a short film about the park, and later on it prompted his painting “The Temptation of Saint Anthony”. Other artists were likewise inspired, producing a novel, a libretto and even an opera about the garden.
Public interest in the unusual property grew, and in 1954 the Bettini family undertook the herculean task of restoring it. Eventually it was opened to the public as “Sacro Bosco” – Sacred Wood – and it’s been delighting tourists ever since.
But it’s no surprise that the local name is the one that sticks.
|One of the residents of the "Park of Monsters" in Bomarzo, Italy. |
The 500-year-old garden is about 42 miles from Rome.
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Learn more about this series and others on Dani's website: