Villa d’Este and its amazing Italian Renaissance Garden in Tivoli near Rome are a comprehensive example of Italian Renaissance culture at its most refined. Commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este upon his appointment as Governor of Tivoli, the existing villa built in the 13th century for use by the governor was entirely reconstructed to meet the cardinal’s vision of a palatial setting surrounded by an amazing terraced garden. Using nearby Villa Adriana, the palatial retreat of Emperor Hadrian, as inspiration the cardinal created an elaborate garden with a mixture of architectural elements and water features which had a strong influence on European landscape design for centuries to come. In 2001 it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list as an outstanding example of Renaissance culture at its peak as well as due to the influence the gardens of Villa d’Este had throughout Europe.
In the 18th century the villa and gardens were acquired by the House of Habsburg after Ercole III d’Este left the property to his daughter Maria Beatrice, wife of Grand Duke Ferdinand of Habsburg. It was during this time the villa and its gardens were left neglected with the gardens amazing Roman hydraulics falling into disuse and many of its spectacular sculptures sent to other sites. These unfortunate circumstances were reversed when Cardinal Gustav von Hohelohe began residing at the property and launched a series of projects to bring the complex back to its original splendor. Thanks to the restoration, Villa d’Este was once more a center of Italian culture, hosting Popes, Cardinals, rulers, artists and musicians including Franz Liszt who performed one of his final concerts on the property. During the onset of World War I the villa became property of the Italian State and during the 1920s was restored and opened to the public, it was also heavily restored after World War II after it was damaged in a bombing in 1944.
The garden combines terraces and downward slopes to create a beautiful cascading vision. If features a central stairway that leads down a wooden slope to three fishponds at the lowest point in the gardens. Be sure to check out the brilliant hydraulic organ at the Organ Fountain which is active every two hours starting at 10:30 AM as well as the Fontana della Civetta, the owl fountain, which features a moving artificial owl also operates every two hours starting from 10 AM.
Villa d’Este is open Tuesday through Sundays except on January 1st, May 1st and December 25th. Tickets to the exhibition, villa and gardens will cost you around $12 with reduced rate tickets available at about $8. Free admission is available to European Union citizens under 18 and over 65 with proper documentation. Housed in two buildings in the gardens of Villa d’Este is the Museum of Ancient Books which gives guests a journey through time discovering history, secrets and technology of the region. The museum is open from 9 AM to 1 PM on days which Villa d’Este is open.