|Posted by Author on June 30, 2015 at 8:50 AM|
After navigating tight medieval streets, entering this Renaissance garden from the stately house above was a descent into a valley of spectacle, astonishment, and moments of elegance.
Images: Sam Valentine and Charlie Chapman
Really, to use the word "garden" does not quite do this landscape justice. Joining company with the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu in Peru, and the pyramids of Egypt, Villa d'Este in Tivoli, Italy is one of only about a thousand historic sites recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a "World Heritage Site." UNESCO describes the landscape as "one of the most remarkable and comprehensive illustrations of Renaissance culture."
To gardeners, Villa d'Este -- or at least certain scenes from it -- might be quite familiar. As a visitor moves from the perched palace to landscape's heart, he or she passes through grottoes, terraces, and sloped walks before soon coming to one of the garden's most unique (and photogenic) features. The "Alley of the Hundred Fountains" is a long pathway measured off by a rhythm of many tiered water spouts. Each spout originates from a unique but congruent fountainhead set within lushly overgrown planted walls. I cannot say I counted all "hundred" fountains, but the visual impact of this space and the sensation of moving along it by far exceeded my expectations.
Images: Sam Valentine
The landscape configuration seen today is the product of a long string of declines, renovations, and restorations, but it is clear that hierarchy was never Villa d'Este's strong suit. However, what the landscape lacks in focus or organized movement, it compensates for with aquatic feats and bold iconographic expressions of power. (I will explore each of these concepts in a following entry.)
Image: Sam Valentine
After fully descending from the palace hillside, a visitor reaches the flat plain at the center of the garden. Here, at the geographic center of the estate, visitors finds themselves in the middle of another of the garden's celebrated views; the central axis of the garden steps from soaring fountains down to wide, reflective fish ponds. At a glance, these broad, formally framed pools are analogous to those seen in other Italian, French, and even American gardens, but its unique context sets it apart and it is really just one of dozens of powerful moments in this landscape. Perhaps another thing to keep in mind is its precedence: Villa d'Este was completed more than a hundred years before work began on French gardens like Versailles and two-hundred years before the United States was founded.
Image: Sam Valentine