Park of the Monsters

Gardens of Bomarzo: Parco dei Mostri

The spectacular Park of the Monsters garden at Bomarzo used to be a half-days drive away, now the newly completed SP77 dual carriageway from Civitanova on the coast in Le Marche to Foligno in Umbria has opened up the centre of Italy for those from Le Marche interested in exploring further afield. The new road has reduced the journey to just over two hours from the A14 motorway at Civitanova to the park. The road itself is something of an engineering marvel with wide, well lit tunnels burrowing through the Appinines, making it a comfortable as well as quick passage through to Umbria and on to Lazio.

The Park of the Monsters is so called after the numerous stone sculptures of mythological beasts that are scattered around the gardens. Designed by the Renaissance architect Pirro Ligorio (who also designed the Villa d’Este) for Vicino Orsini in 1552, the park is unique among Renaissance gardens. The layout and content of the gardens are unusual in that as opposed to the tradition of a formal and geometric grand plan offering various features such as ponds, fountains, statues, grottos and secret gardens, the Park of the Monsters is one big “secret garden”. There is no obvious formality to the layout, no central avenue, no main focal point and no formal planting.  The garden is more like a wonderful if rather bizarre dream; a Wonderland where a medieval Alice, has, Medusa like, turned every grotesque apparition to stone.

Despite their best efforts, a rationale for the many and various magical and mythical figures has eluded the best efforts of Renaissance scholars. Most of the statues are identifiable and there are obvious links to Greek and Roman myths as well as medieval poems and stories, but this is like no other garden of the period. It is perhaps because of the weirdness of the garden that it fell into disuse and became overgrown only to be rediscovered in the last century due in part to the interest of artist such as Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau.   

Thankfully the park is now well restored and must create for the visitor something of the vision that awaited the original 16C friends of the Orsini family lucky enough to be invited to their garden of wonders.

Since the park is now accessible on a day trip or as part of a short break for those of us in Le Marche it is well worth the effort and offers a delightful outing for the young of all ages.