Friday, March 15, 2019

GARDEN OF MONSTERS – a 500-year-old mystery

Posted by: Dani Harper, Author
One of the fun things about writing is the amount of research I get to do for my stories. And you can’t look up ghosts and faeries and supernatural creatures without coming up with some odd and interesting things.

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"

“The Villa of Marvels” was the brainchild of Prince Francesco Orsini, a former military leader and a patron of the arts. While other gardens of the Italian Renaissance celebrated classical beauty, geometry, and symmetry, this one was shockingly opposite in every way.

A war elephant kills a Roman soldier.
Located on wild land, the trees and shrubs were left alone to grow as they pleased. The grotesque and surreal sculptures, as well as carved seats, inscribed obelisks, fountains and more, were intentionally created from a type of rough volcanic stone that could not be finely worked. 

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 dreamlike (or nightmarish) landscape was finished in 1552, but the reason for its creation remains a mystery to this day. Some theories hold that the prince was trying to express some of his own personal demons:  he was a general in the Pope’s army during a military campaign in which his best friend was killed and he was captured. Orsini spent several years as a prisoner of war in Germany. 

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.

The fae are cunning, powerful and often cruel. The most beautiful among them are often the most deadly. Hidden far beneath the mortal world, the timeless faery realm plays by its own rules—and those rules can change on a whim. Now and again, the unpredictable residents of that mystical land cross the supernatural threshold…

In this enchanting romance series from Dani Harper, the ancient fae come face-to-face with modern-day humans and discover something far more potent than their strongest magic: love.

Learn more about this series and others on Dani's website:


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