Bomarzo Garden

I had read about the Parco di Mostri in Bomarzo before going to Italy and it sounded fascinating. The Park of Monsters is the creation of Prince Pier Francesco Orsini who, although living in a rather fabulous palace, had his share of bad luck. In 1552, he returned from a war in which his friend had been killed and he was taken prisoner and his thoughts turned to planning a special garden. Five years later, his beloved wife, Giulia Farnese Orsini, died. As an outlet for his sorrow, he pushed ahead with the project and for more than thirty years dedicated his life to finishing the garden. In 1579, he noted in his diary: “I can find relief only in my beloved forest, and I bless the money I have spent and still spend on this magic area”.

Six years later, Orsini died at the age of 62. Sadly, after his death, the garden was abandoned and swallowed up by the forest until 1951 when an estate agent, Giancarlo Bettini, stumbled across the hidden monsters when looking for land to buy. He bought the whole lot and proceeded to restore the garden for its intended purpose. A short stroll from the ticket office

we come to the entrance.

A pair of sphinxes await and each plinth bears an inscription; “He who does not go there with eyes wide open and lips sealed will not be able to admire the most wonderful marvels” and “You who enter here put your mind to it part by part and tell me if some many marvels were made by deceit or by design”.

A series of heads depicting the Gods are scattered around, peering from shrubbery when you least expect it.

Proteus Glaucus represents the Greek God of the Sea, Proteus, and Glaucus, the fisherman who became a Sea God after eating a magical herb. The globe and castle atop the head are symbols of the Orsini family.

The ruined mausoleum is intentionally half destroyed and fallen over and we passed an intriguing gate in a stone wall.

Hercules and Cacus are embroiled in a very one-sided fight.

Nearby, a stream soothes the tension as it tumbles over the rocks

while the winged stallion, Pegasus, oversees the flow.

There is a turtle with a fairy on its back, both looking in the same direction as Pegasus.

Not too far away, a whale emerges from the water.

Dedicated to all nymphs, the aptly named nymphaneum seems to be guarded by a lion with a ball under his paw.

In front of it, there is a dormant fountain with dolphins each end

with Jupiter and Venus standing by.

Seven obelisks topped with sculpted heads form the audience at the theatre,

not far from the leaning house. One of the first constructions of the garden, it is thought to have been built at the request of Giulia.

We pass statues of Ceres, Roman goddess of agriculture and Neptune, Roman god of the sea.

An elephant carrying a castle appears, a symbol of strength and restraint, with a wounded or dead Roman soldier held in its trunk. 

Another fight is raging around the corner, this time a dog, a lion and a wolf are battling with a dragon. Three against one just doesn’t seem fair.

The Mouth of Hell, the Orc, the Ogre, whichever name you choose, it is nonetheless disturbing. The inscription on the top lip translates as, “all thoughts fly”. There is a picnic bench inside, not a very inviting setting in which to dine.

The Etruscan bench has a very well preserved inscription, “You who have travelled the world wishing to see great and stupendous marvels, come here, where there are horrendous faces, elephants, lions, bears, orcs and dragons”. Who can argue with that?

Continuing up some steps,

we come to the Hippodrome Garden, the perimeter is decorated with large pinecones and acorns.

At the near end, there is a bench surmounted by a female figure with a bifurcated fish tail

while the three-headed dog, Cerberus stands guard nearby.

At the far end are two bears, one carrying the family coat of arms and the other, a Roman rose.

On the other side sits Echidna, the half-woman half-snake (mother of Cerberus) and Fury, the female winged creature with a dragon’s tail and claws with a pair of lions separating the two.

The Rotonda is a circular fountain at the top of a staircase leading to the Tempietto.

The ‘small temple’ was the last construction of the garden as a memorial to Giulia, a symbol of her constancy, having remained faithful to her husband when he was absent at war. The ceiling is decorated with lilies, symbol of the Farnese family and roses, symbol of the Orsini family. Giancarlo and Tina Bettini, who restored the garden in 1952, are buried in the Tempietto.

Stunned, shocked and amazed, with Palazzo Orsini in our sights, we returned to the car to seek lunch in Bomarzo.

repast reprised

Though my memory is not as reliable as it once was, I had a vivid recollection of lunch at a tiny osteria somewhere near Villa Reale on our first trip to Italy. At that time, Michael was busy making a guitar so I was hoping to take him there before visiting the villa this time. As we neared the villa, things started to look familiar and there it was. La Bottega sulla Fraga was just as I remembered,

tucked away in a lovely, peaceful setting on Via Fraga

with the Fraga stream flowing gently on the other side of the road.

This former ancient butchery isn’t spacious and it seemed the place to be on a warm Sunday afternoon.

A table for two in the courtyard seemed to be waiting just for us along with a friendly welcome.

Our meals were delicious

and of course, it would have been rude not to have dessert.

back to Bolsena

On our first trip to Italy, we discovered Bolsena when we chose a place on the map to break our journey from Cortona to Rome. Our brief sojourn left us wanting to return and see more of this beautiful town as well as explore the magnificent Castello Rocca Monaldeschi.

Refreshed from our sustenance at RetroGusto, we continued down Corso Cavour

to the medieval Fountain of San Rocco. Built in 1450, the spring water was deemed to be miraculous when San Rocco recovered from a thigh wound after drinking it.

We made our way up ancient stone steps, along narrow alleys and through medieval arches to the castle.

A thoughtfully positioned bench beckoned us to rest awhile and admire the vista across rooftops to Lake Bolsena under the gaze of insentient eyes.

A fortress was originally built above the town in 1156 to protect from invasion. In 1295, the Monaldeschi family of Orvieto asserted their power and moved in. The walls were reinforced and the castle extended with the addition of three more towers. The Monaldeschi ruled until the mid 15th century and over the ensuing years the fortress was robbed, burnt, restored and used as a prison and warehouse. Renovation work began in the 1970s and the restored fort has been home to the Territorial Museum of Lake Bolsena since 1990.

Unfortunately, the museum was closed but the climb had certainly been worth it. On the opposite side of Piazza Monaldeschi,

the 15th century Church of San Salvatore was intended to look more like a fortress than a religious building.

We returned to the car

and parked lakeside for lunch at Trattoria del Moro, an experience we had been looking forward to since our first visit.

Lake Bolsena is the largest volcanic lake in Europe, formed 370,000 years ago following the eruption of the Vulsini volcano which was active until 104BC. The lake covers an area of 115sq km, has a circumference of 43 km and a maximum depth of 151 metres. Impossible to envision from photographs.

Our meals were equally as delicious, if not better, than we remembered.

The same can’t be said for the weather but the inclement conditions didn’t detract from the peaceful surroundings as we ambled back to the car.

I would like to think we will return again to Bolsena and Trattoria del Moro.

RetroGusto

Arriving in Bolsena, we found a very convenient car park in Piazza Matteotti, a perfect starting point to explore the town. Through the medieval arch leading to Corso Cavour,

we were distracted from our mission upon discovering RetroGusto. The unassuming exterior belied the wonder within,

this place was much more than just a grocery store.

The range of local produce was boggling

but with a little help and a few samples to taste, we indulged in a delicious platter accompanied by a glass of exquisite vino rosso.

Armed with a selection of goodies for future consumption (the truffle salami could not be left behind), we thanked la bella signora and returned to our mission.

Orvieto underground

While in Orvieto, we signed up for the tour underground, a fascinating insight into the lives of the inhabitants thousands of years ago. At the end of the 1970s, a landslide opened up a large hole a few hundred metres from the duomo, tempting a number of speleologists (a new word I have learnt meaning someone who studies caves) to investigate. They found an incredible underground world, dug by hand out of the tufa beneath the town, that had been forgotten. The beautiful Umbrian countryside accompanied us as we made our way to the entrance of the caves.

1.Orvieto

We found ourselves at the centre of medieval olive oil production, complete with millstones, a press, furnace and mangers for the animals working the grindstones.

2.grinding stone

3.olive press

Intriguing tunnels led in all directions, beckoning us to investigate further.

The Etruscans created cisterns for holding rainwater and very deep narrow wells in search of underground springs. There are small notches on the two longest sides called pedarole, footholds to enable someone to climb down and out again.

10.well

The tour continued, revealing more grottoes that had a variety of uses such as wine storage and pottery kilns, over twelve hundred have been discovered.

11.caves

The walls of some were covered in small cubic niches created to breed pigeons, now a classic dish of the local cuisine.

12.columbarium

16.columbarium

There are narrow tunnels at the back of the walls, just big enough for a person to pass on all fours. Unfortunately, their destinations remain unknown, the mystery secured by centuries of landslides.

Every so often, light streamed in from openings in the cliff and we were treated to another glimpse of the spectacular vista.

19.view

There seemed to be an endless labyrinth of tunnels, stairs and passageways intersecting in all directions.

25.tunnels

Thank goodness we had a guide, we may never have made it back.

26.view