Rising up quickly from the Roman campagna where Hadrian’s Villa can be found, you hit towering mountains, and the train snakes through gorges and canyons. A waterfall can be spotted off in the distance, and after a tunnel or two, you realize the train station for town of Tivoli is right by that cascade. After a short walk through town, you arrive at the Villa d’Este, an Italian family originally from Ferrara.
The villa is not in the country, but right on the edge of town–and the edge of a mountain. Dramatic views of the countryside between Tivoli and Rome spread out before you.
Escaping the heat of the city during the summer, the villa is where the wealthy came. In fact, the word for summer in Italian is estate, interestingly enough. Now, the correct etymology of estate in English is probably from French, but I can’t help but think that our word for a wealthy person’s land holdings out in the countryside in English could be derived from the Italian estate.
But I digress; ever wonder where the inspiration for the design of Compton Hill Reservoir Park came from? It is from Italian garden architecture, and the Villa d’Este is one of the most famous.
The idea of having long balustrades, long ramps or staircases leading visitors from different levels on steep elevations and dramatic fountains made of fantastical masks all come from Italy.
One thing I can’t convey with images is the noise! There are some fountains that sound like a locomotive charging through a tunnel. And remember, all of this is done with water pressure and no mechanical pumps. The engineers who originally designed all of the hydraulics merely relied on the water cascading down off of the Apennines Mountains.
The idea of having long vistas with a dramatic terminus is also a hallmark of Italian design. Think about how the Gateway Arch is designed to function as a focal point at the end of the Gateway Mall. And also think about how the western end of the Mall in St. Louis has long had no proper end. The new soccer stadium seeks to provide a terminus to the west.
The Villa d’Este is an easy trip outside of Rome, and I encourage you to visit. Meridian Hill Park in Washington, DC, is another great example of an American park inspired by Italian garden architecture.