Gardens of Bomarzo  

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"Orsini's park of monsters is a determined effort to make a mood eternal, to memorialize an intense disgust."--Eccentric Spaces (1977) by Robert Harbison

"My old Baedeker of 1909 does not mention Bomarzo at all; but a Guida ai Misteri e Segreti del Lazio (Sugar, 1969) gives it five pages and four photographs."--"The Monsters of Bomarzo" (1972) Edmund Wilson

"Notte et giorno noi siam qui vigili et pronte/ A guardar d'ogni ingiuria questa fonte."


Night and day we are vigilant and ready to protect this fountain from any harm.

Turtle from the Gardens of Bomarzo by Bartholomeus Breenbergh
Turtle from the Gardens of Bomarzo by Bartholomeus Breenbergh

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The Park of the Monsters (Parco dei Mostri in Italian-language), also named Garden of Bomarzo, is a monumental complex located in Bomarzo, in the province of Viterbo, in northern Lazio, Italy.

The gardens were created during the Italian Renaissance, in the 16th century. They are composed of a wooded park, located at the bottom of a valley where the castle of Orsini was erected, and populated by sculptures and small buildings divided among of the natural vegetation.



The surreal nature of the Parco dei Mostri appealed to Jean Cocteau and the great surrealist Salvador Dalí, who discussed it at great length. The poet André Pieyre de Mandiargues published a photo book (Les Monstres de Bomarzo, 1957) devoted to Bomarzo. Niki de Saint Phalle was inspired by Bomarzo for her Tarot Garden. The story behind Bomarzo and the life of Pier Francesco Orsini are the subject of a novel by the Argentinian writer Manuel Mujica Láinez (1910-1984), Bomarzo (1962). Mujica Láinez himself wrote a libretto based on his novel, which was set to music by Alberto Ginastera (1967). The opera Bomarzo premièred in Washington in 1967. In Argentina the opera was banned by the military dictatorship. The Dutch magic-surrealist painter Carel Willink used several of the park's statue groups in his paintings, e.g. The Eternal Cry and Balance of Forces.


"I mostri di Bomarzo" (1949) by Mario Praz was the first text to bring the Bomarzo park to the attention of Italian tourists.

The text was first published in Il Tempo, 3 (17-11-1949) and subsequently in l'Illustrazione italiana, nr.8 (1953), pp. 48-51, 86; in Panopticon Romano, Verona, 1967, pp. 107-113; and in: his book Il giardino dei sensi (1975), pp. 76-81.

Brassaï would do the same with "The mammoth figures of Bomarzo", published in Harper's Bazaar in (January 1953, pp. 70-73, for American tourists.


It is named so for the many larger-than-life sculptures, some sculpted in the bedrock, which populate this predominantly barren landscape. It is the work of Pier Francesco Orsini, called Vicino (1528–1588), a condottiero and patron of the arts, greatly devoted to his wife Giulia Farnese ; when she died, he created the gardens. The design was attributed to Pirro Ligorio.

During the nineteenth century and deep into the twentieth the garden became overgrown and neglected, but in the 1970s a program of restoration was implemented by the Bettini family, and today the garden, which remains private property, is a major tourist attraction.



The park of Bomarzo was intended not to please, but to astonish, and like many Mannerist works of art, its symbolism is arcane : examples are a large sculpture of one of Hannibal's war elephants, which mangles a Roman legionary, or the statue of Ceres lounging on the bare ground, with a vase of verdure perched on her head.

The many monstrous statues appear to be unconnected to any rational plan and appear to have been strewn almost randomly about the area, sol per sfogare il Core ("just to set the heart free") as one inscription in the obelisks says.

Allusive verses in Italian by Annibal Caro (the first one is of him, in 1564), Bitussi and Cristoforo Madruzzo, some of them now eroded, were inscribed besides sculptures.

The reason for the layout and design of the garden is largely unknown : perhaps they were meant as a foil to the perfect symmetry and layout of the great Renaissance gardens nearby at Villa Farnese and Villa Lante. Next to a formal exedra is a tilting watchtowerlike casina, the so-called Casa Storta ("Stunted House").


  • Pegasus, the winged horse
  • Two sirens, probably Proserpina, wife of Vulcan
  • An orc with its mouth wide open
  • A whale
  • A bear
  • A dragon attacked by dogs
  • Proteuswith weapons of Orsini
  • Hannibal's elephant catching a Roman legionary
  • A monster on the lips which is inscribed "Everyone thought fades"
  • Cerbère
  • A turtle with a winged woman on its back
  • A small theater of Nature
  • A giant who brutally shreds a character
  • A fountain called Pegasus
  • A triton in a niche
  • The door of hell
  • Two Ceres, sitting and standing
  • A sleeping nymph
  • Aphrodite
  • The giant fruit, cones and basins


  • The House considered : dedicated to Madruzzo cardinal who was a friend of Vicino Orsini and his wife.
  • The Temple of Eternity : memorial to Giulia Farnese, located at the top of the garden, it is an octagonal building with a mixture of classical, Renaissance and Etruscan genres. It currently houses the tombs of Giovanni Bettini and Tina Severi, restaurant owners of the garden.

Linking in 2022

Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise National Park, Antium, Bomarzo, Buddha Park, Castle of the Living Dead, Cerveteri, Circeo National Park, Civita Castellana Cathedral, Echidna (mythology), Folly, Fossanova Abbey, Garden of Ninfa, Gates of hell, Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park, Grand Guignol Orchestra, Hadrian's Villa, Hyacintha Mariscotti, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, Index of Italy-related articles, Italian garden, Italian garden, Italian Renaissance garden, Italian Renaissance sculpture, Johannes de Sacrobosco, Let's Go Luna!, List of gardens in Italy, Monte Cassino, Monty Don's Italian Gardens, Niki de Saint Phalle, Orcus, Orsini family, Ostia Antica, Palace of the Popes in Viterbo, Palazzo Zuccari, Rome, Pier Francesco Orsini, Sala Keoku, Simone Moschino, Tarot Garden, Tarquinia, The Bride (1985 film), Villa d'Este, Villa Farnese, Visionary environment, Vulci

See also

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