Villa D'Este

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Name Villa D'Este
Place Tivoli
Country Italy
Topic please enter the topic here
Author(s) Denise Ascione
Completion Please enter the date of completion
Client Please enter the client
Project costs Please enter the costs (if known)
Villa d'Este 2008 (24).jpg
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41.96239, 12.796695, Villa d'Este, 00019 Tivoli RM Villa d'Este, 00019 Tivoli RM Tivoli, Latium </googlemap>

"… dovunque tu volga il guardo ne zampillano polle in sì varie maniere e con tale splendidezza di disegno, da non esservi luogo su tutta la terra che in tal genere non sia di gran lunga inferiore…" (Lettera di Uberto Foglietta a Flavio Orsino, 1569)

Rationale: Why is this case study interesting?

Villa d’Este was elected World Heritage site by the UNESCO on december 13 2001;

  • The Villa d’Este is one of the most outstanding examples of Renaissance culture at its apogee.
  • The gardens of the Villa d’Este had a profound influence on the development of garden design throughout Europe.
  • The principles of Renaissance design and aesthetics are illustrated in an exceptional manner by the gardens of the Villa d’Este.
  • The gardens of the Villa d’Este are among the earliest and finest of the giardini delle meraviglie and symbolize the flowering of Renaissance culture.
  • For centuries the Villa d'Este was a must in travellers' andartists' Grand Tours in Italy. It inspired, either directly or indirectly, painters, composers, and literary men from all countries.

Villa d’Este is one of the most meaningful witness of the Renaissance, a unique example of the Italian garden. It became a reference mark for many other gardens build after, in Italy and in the other country. The Villa was looked as a forced destination for the major artists, poets and musicians of the world who described it as a Wonder garden and Italian garden. It’s fame permained during centuries and thousands of tourists visit the Villa nowadays, charmed by the wondering fountains, by the sound of the ‘Organo Idraulico’ and by bird’s song of the ‘Fontana della Civetta’. The fountains, the grottos and the nymphaeum are part of the classical culture with its real meaning; deep knowledge of the allegories and mythological achievements.

The Landscape was completely modified with the terracing of the slop.

Author's perspective

To understand the present and what in the future could happen, we have to understand the past with the success and the failures.

I think that the Parks and Gardens should express our self, our dreams.

We have to feel free…

Landscape and/or urban context


The Villa d’Este is situated in the historical centre of Tivoli on the west slope from the Tiburtini mountains, along the Aniene river. The landscape and the lands resources made Tivoli one of the most important strategic place. Inside the Barbarossa’s city walls on the south, there were slopes covered by gardens, vineyards, and a few of houses and churches making part of the Valle Gaudente, so called because of the perfect harmony with nature. Since 1550, in about 30 years, the cardinal Ippolito d’Este bought the properties next to the Villa and remodeled the land to create an ensemble composed by the Palace and the Gardens, who covers an area of about 4,5ha. in an uneven quadrilateral form. The urban context changed completely; the medieval structure of the Campitelli quarter was destructed and the connections were interrupted. A new street was made, called Via dell’ Inversata, but it wasn’t sufficient to satisfy the people living there; more of all, many citizen were deprived of its houses.

An underground channel was dug beneath the town to harness the water of the Aniene river to supply the water needed for the numerous fountains embellishing the garden.

The landscape appearance was intensely modified: to create the terracing system great part of the land had to be excavate to fulfill some part or to remove some other parts

It was one of the most important and branding intervention, maybe the first since the ancient cultures.

Cultural/social/political context

  • Brief explanation of culture, political economy, legal framework

Illustration: Bullet points, image, background notes


Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este (Ferrara 1509 – Roma 1572), after the disappointment of a failed bid for the papacy, became governor of Tivoli from 1550, where he discovered and bring back to life a big part of archeological heritage located near Tivoli; Pirro Ligorio reconstruct the old plan of Villa Adriana; moreover he studied the area by analyzing the geographical and morphological structure of that places. He immediately nurtured the idea of realizing a Villa with garden in “Valle gaudente” as the twin from the Palace in Rome in Monte, but it was only after 1560 that his architectural and iconographic program became real with the painter-architect-archeologist Pirro Ligorio and the court architect Alberto Galvani who realized the project. The Palace was decorated under the tutelage of the stars of the late Roman Mannerism. The work was almost complete at the time of the Cardinal’s death (1572).

Core Questions of Working Group History and Conservation

How are the heritage sites linked to the adjacent urban landscape?

Villa d’Este is situated in the centre of Tivoli that is a little city about 20km away from Rome. The old centre of Tivoli is located on the north, that’s because the Aniene river surround Tivoli on the north and on the east. The connection from Rome to Tivoli is good, that’s because there are other important historic place near Tivoli, like Villa Adriana; you can go by car, by bus or by train. The only problem is that there is a lot of traffic during the day. There is a network of tight streets on the old centre which makes difficult to identify the presence of Villa d’este, also because the entrance is trough the Palace. Tivoli developed on the west slope from the Tiburtini mountains that consent a wonderful panorama from Rome and the adjacent landscape.


How are the heritage sites used?

Villa d’Este is a historic heritage worldly known, so the largest part of the people who visit it, are tourists; but in the last years the Villa began to have other functions and the garden is also used to receive cultural manifestation like the show of "Ettore Roesler Franz” (a landscape painter of the late 19th century in Tivoli and Lazio), or “The Week of the Culture”, a free entrance week . During the summer the opening time is extended to the night and concert take place involving more people. There is a Museum Laboratory of Ancient Books, housed inside the gardens, in two buildings in the area opposite the Fontana dell'Ovato. The museum is the international home of seminars, conferences, and teaching activities related to the study, conservation, restoration and technical/scientific reconstruction of ancient books, and various pictorial techniques.

Which elements make the heritage site successful and attractive?

It’s not easy to answer that question because every element, in relation with the complex of the garden, with its impressive concentration of fountains, nymphs, grottoes, jeaux d’eau, and music make this heritage successful. Every fountain create an atmosphere; sometimes it create a natural background and sometimes artificial. The attention is completely captured with sounds and views effects. The greatest part of the sculpture were sold in every part of the world, so that we can’t admire the real old context of the garden, with its allegories and mythological allusion of the classical period.

How is the historical background of the heritage site presented to the public?

There are many historic sign scattered in the Palace and in the Gardens, but the most of them are old and had to be changed.

What do the author(s) want to express with the garden concept? Did he/they follow the cultural background of the time?

Villa d’Este was thought like the twin of the Palace in Rome where the cardinal Ippolito d’Este had a place, far from the city, to think, discuss and take decisions. Among its contemporaries, the Villa d'Este soon became famous, thanks to its innovative plan, magnificence, rich decorations, and the extraordinary variety of its jeux d'eau. The influence of the Villa d'Este was decisive for the development of the art of European gardens, and it remained an unrivalled model until the French garden of Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte came into fashion.

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Analysis of program/function

  • What are the main functional characteristics?
  • How have they been expressed or incorporated?

Villa d’Este is composed by 51 fountains, 398 spurts, 364 gushes, 64 waterfall, 220 basins, 875 linear meter of water chain…….. The garden is constituted by a complicated tubing net that composed a very complex hydraulic machine moved by the force of gravity!

Pirro Ligorio took the idea from the original hydraulic map from Tivoli; the installation, based on the knowledge of the roman’s technologies and the treatises of Vitruvio and Frontino, established a masterpiece of the hydraulic engineering, to create watergames and for the water distribution. The scheme was projected so that the draining water of one fountain could feed the fountains lower, with a great energy and water saving.

The first intervention, made in the 1560, took the water from the Rivellese aqueduct, but it hasn’t enough capacity, and in the 1564, another conduct was built by recovering the old trucks of the roman’s channeling system, feeding directly to the Aniene; the water capacity increased at 500 liter at second. The water gush out into the Villa from the Fonata dell’Ovato, where 2 repartition chambers distribute into the other forks.

Not many interventions had to be made since the original project of Tommaso Ghinucci: the Rivellese aqueduct was substituted by the Acqua Marcia aqueduct, because it has no more water, and the materials were changed.

Illustration: Map/diagram/sketches photos and background notes

Analysis of design/planning process


Pirro Ligorio was the first who thought to realize a “fountain garden” in Tivoli; he looked for the place in the Valle Gaudente descending towards Porta Romana. The rocky and impervious lands could make hard the works, but the great height differences, about 45m, makes this place appropriate. Another important factor, was that they could gather the water from the Aniene.

For about 15 years, Ippolito bought the properties needed and began by upsetting the medieval structure of the Campitelli quarter; the urban connections were destructed and makes hard to move over trough the city; above all that, many citizens were deprived from its own house. When all the needed demolitions were completed, the land leveling out phases began; great rocks excavations put in test the human genius and ingenuity. The masses were used to enlarge the terracing to the right side of the future garden and to fill up the depressions downwards, towards Porta Romana. At the same time they had to provide to contain the slope by creating row of pillars connected to arches or to barrel vault, exploited to realize grottos, nymphaeum and niches.

The layout of the garden was made on a grail of orthogonal tracks of about 30m that divided the surface into regular unities, like the renaissance configuration. The symmetrically arranged spaces, followed the imaginary longitudinal axis, who represented the visual line of the plant. Transversally, 5 principal axis were the modulator elements of the architectural composition. The creation of the Villa was leaded with a versed iconological program made by Pirro Ligorio, with the goal to ennoble the cardinal and to charge his work with elevated meanings.

After 1569 Ippolito slowed up the works because of the elevated costs (of about 2 million scuds), and used the Villa for meditation and cultural meeting, as a “temple of knowledge”, unitl his dead in 1572. Ippolisto d’este hasn’t enough time to complete his work; many fountains weren’t completed, and many other weren’t started. Cardinal Luigi d'Este (1538-1586) inherited the Villa and continued some works helped by many personage like cardinals and nobles, because the costs were too much; the notoriety of Villa d’Este increased. After the death of Luigi, no one of the following owners took care of its conservation until 1599 when Alessandro d’Este (1538-1624) succeeded. He started a great program of works for restoring and repairing, and to create new fountains in the lower part. He also brought many changes at the arrangement of the garden, helped by Gaspare Guerra as the architect, and Orazio Oliviei, Curzio Donati and Vincenzo Vincenzi as fountain attendants. After his dead many cardinals and dukes succeeded: Francesco realized many restoring works from 1629 to 1641 with the architect Francesco Peperelli and transformed the vegetation arrangement; Cardinal Rinaldo I, in the years 1660-1661, commissioned 2 fountains to Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and in the 1670, he began more interventions with Mattia Rossi and Bernini.

In the XVIII century the property passed to the House of Hapsburg; the Villa and the garden began his decay, the garden was slowly abandoned, the water works fell into ruin, and the collection of ancient statues, was disassembled and scattered. Gustav von Hohelohe obtained the property of the villa from the Dukes of Modena in 1851, launched a series of works to pull the complex back from its state of ruin. Between 1867 and 1882 the Villa once again became a cultural point of reference, with the Cardinal frequently hosting the musician Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886), who composed Giochi d'acqua a Villa d'Este for piano while he was a guest there. At the outbreak of the first world war the villa became a property of the Italian State, and during the 1920s it was restored and opened to the public. Another, radical restoration was carried out immediately after the Second World War to repair the damage caused by the bombing of 1944.

Analysis of use/users

There is a big difference between the users who had access before the opening to the public in 1930; that’s only because the Garden and the villa were private and only the aristocracy could visit it; The Vialone was often used to receive and entertain great personages or as “knowledge temple” where Poets and artists discussed and exhibit their arts. The garden were also used as a meditation place; but I think that its real use in every time, is to wonder. To create a new atmosphere and escape, for a few moments, from the daily reality.

Future development directions

I don’t think that this project can evolve; but it’s important to find out new material and methods that stops or reduced the worsening of the fountains. The water is the protagonist of this garden in all sense…. To wonder and to destruct!

Peer reviews or critique

I think that we can’t really answer this question in this case study…. Nowadays its unthinkable to create something like Villa d’Este; Firstly, it destroyed greatest part of another important heritage like the older medieval structure of Tivoli and the Palaces and Monastery located there before; so many people lost here houses without any explications, and the use of the water is too expensive… But I think that it’s out of any doubt that Villa d’Este is a masterpiece of its era, for the design and for the engineering used.

Points of success and limitations

I think that Villa d'este is a success "only" for its water games.... I don't think that I have to tell more about this, but its very important to explain its great limitations.

The enormous amount of water used in all this centuries in this complex, is the characterizing elements and the principal attraction , on the other hand it constituted every time the weak point and the principal cause of degrade of the structures that are exposed to the gushes action and witch are always surrounded by water. The conservation problem are aggravate by the bad chemical composition of the water that has solid many detritus and slime concentrations. Chalky concentrations obstruct conductors and water pipes. The management costs were always onerous because of its continuous restorations… Anyway, the water composition improved on because the region Lazio realized a purifier, in 1999-2000, that assure a partial decalcification, filtration of the detritus, and an antibacterial treatment.

What can be generalized from this case study?

  • Are there any important theoretical insights?

Short statement plus background notes

Which research questions does it generate?

Short statement plus background notes

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Image Gallery

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  • Italienische Gaerten von Guenter Mader und Laila-Neubert Mader;

Villa d'Este di Barisi, Fagiolo, Madonna;

Natura e Artificio di Fagiolo;

Guida a Villa d'Este di Isabella Barisi;

  • Wikipedia
  • Villa d'Este a Tivoli. Quattro secoli di storia e restauri di Centroni Alessandra