I had an adventure over the weekend and I’ll be writing about it in the next few posts. I went with some friends to the small town of Vitorchiano near Viterbo and while we were there we stopped in at the Monster Park at Bomarzo. The park was built by Pier Francesco Orsini in 1552 in memory of his beloved wife (according to the website, ”only to vent the heart broken at the death of is (sic) wife Giulia Farnese”). It was designed by Pirro Ligurio, a well known architect of the time. Apparently the park fell into oblivion until 1954 when it was purchased by Giovanni Bettini who lovingly restored it. We also have Mr Bettini to thank for the guidebook to the park, which he describes as “an artistic and cultural complex unique of its kind in the world.” The guidebook, from which I plan to quote liberally, is also unique of its kind in the world, being almost incomprehensible, at least in the English version. Now on to the park!
Originally known as the Sacred Wood, a name the owners clearly prefer, the park picked up its rather more colorful name from locals and has held onto it, presumably for marketing purposes. There are, in fact, quite a few monsters strewn about, as well as some ancient gods like Saturn, Cerberus, Venus and Neptune, all mossy and spooky. And learned inscriptions abound, some of which are still legible. There are 24 statues and monuments in the garden all told and if there is any particular plan for their placement it was lost on me.
There’s the leaning house, about which the guidebook notes, “we can deduce that Vicino (Pier Francesco’s nickname) Orsini wanted to offer a strong emotion to his friends who entered the house for a nap and had to leave immediately for the dizziness they felt.” I had exactly the same reaction. Good joke Vicino.
There is Ceres, “triumphant and nostalgic, crowned with a basket…The circle of children clinging to her back…play like little cupids…The one who seems like falling on his head is certainly diving in a lustral bath. Doesn’t it seem that the two Titans holding him have already butterfly wings, symbol of spiritual rebirth, a prefiguration of the angels?” Um, sure.
There’s the Elephant, surmounted by a tower (why?) and throwing a legionary on the ground with his trunk. The guidebook describes the elephant as “magnanimous and faithful, grateful, in love with the moon towards which he throws pure water drawn from the fountains, a tribute to Diana.” The sculpture seems to have something to do with Hannibal.
My favorite is the dragon who (according to the guidebook), “looks like a nice fellow when you look at him closer: he puckers his lips but nobody believes him.”
And then there’s everybody’s favorite, the Ogre, whose mouth represents the entrance to the Underworld, as helpfully pointed out by a quote from Dante engraved on his mouth. The guidebook even more helpfully points out that inside, “a table and a stone bench make it look like a tavern.”
There’s much more, including lovely little streams and waterfalls, wooded paths, Sphinxes, bears, a turtle with a woman on its back facing down a whale, a temple and a mermaid doing a split. If you are ever in central Italy I would seriously recommend a visit. But maybe give the guidebook a miss.