Monday, February 22, 2010

Bomarzo, the Parco dei Mostri.

By email today, Lindsay Sharp writes:

Count Vicino Orsini created the gem of a garden at BOMARZO between 1552 and 1579. The first true water powered MANNERIST GARDEN and much emulated but also much railed at by others including Cardinals and the Church. The Count's history is told in the municipal offices- his old Pallazzo- up in the town. Not to be missed is a table of his multiple girlfriends!

Any photos of Bomarzo garden in winter, especially of the statues and the GROOVES that used to hold the (now missing) lead piping that carried water under pressure to animate moving statues and marvels (also mainly now missing) would be deeply appreciated. Don't miss Caprarola and Villa Lante also in the same neck of the woods.

Be safe and happy,


In fact it is Lindsay and the Bomarzo garden which have brought us to where we are this month. Mid-09, when I presented some draft work as a new member of the Berry Writers Group, so did Lindsay. Lindsay's was an excerpt from work in progress on a surrealist and dark sensual fiction set in the Monster Park in Bomarzo.

Reading Lindsay's text back then I went to the internet and googled Bomarzo and discovered this place nearby, Soriano. And discovered most importantly that whereas so many had told us Italy was now far too expensive and modern, it is in fact not quite so, there are in these hills north of Rome, these villages which retain character, style, manners and beauty as in times past, with the presence of much of the modern, including very high speed internet, and wonderful food including world's best pastries, affordably. So we are here now. It helps but is not essential to speak some Italian, and also to be happy to drive like an Italian.

So we had to go see Bomarzo. It is a remarkable place. Unknown when I lived in Italy in the late 60s, it had vanished in the undergrowth a hundred years before, perhaps a story there of serious people not having regard for the unusual or entertaining or popular. It is now open again, as a private garden, a family of owners having undertaken in the 1970s the business of clearing the park to be seen again. It is not the park as was in heyday, with moving excitements. It is easy to see Lindsay's enthusiasm for such, given his championing of such things in awakening the popular imagination at London's Science Museum, against the frumperies of those 'not amused' as no doubt the case with Vicino Orsini's detractors and inheritors. But it was yesterday a beautiful place to walk and wonder on a sunny winter's day.

Bomarzo itself is one of these villages of the Tuscia living precariously on the edge of a tuffaceous hill on the western side of the Tiber, adjacent to the Cimini hills. Precarious geographically, precarious politico-militarily, as if, metaphorically, one were sitting with thin pants against the cage side of the tube where lions walk from lockup to circus, or in the history of Italy, between wherever in the north and the Pope in the south. The soils are extraordinary, the views splendid: position, position, position, as the real estate agents say... and no doubt the drainage gets away ok.

That road above through the town is on the southeast, the park is around and below, on the north west, overlooked by a most gracious Orsini palace.

And here are pictures, approximately in the order of the park walk. If you seek to know more , click here.

I must say this work perplexed me, having come from the raping violence of Florentine sculpture so recently... Helen explained that it was two blokes, but nonetheless, the manner of tearing apart seemed less than innocent or decent.

Here tortoise and, to the left, well toothed, what the guide says is a whale.

Here three muses, over a pond.

And this building is leaning, the Casa Storta, Twisted House (storta as in 'distorted'). As a popular culture person it did bring to my mind Charlton Heston's discovery on the Planet of the Apes of the ruins of New York.

Here Neptune.

... and other figures gathered in a relatively small area

Further on we were taken by these mermaid figures. Surely everyone has at some time or other wondered about a particular physiological issue with mermaids. Here are two solutions in one little garden, the mermaid with two tails and the mermaid with two little legs and one tail.

... and a temple to finish a wonderful sunny cool morning walk.

Delightful late winter sunshine walk this park is, but it is not what its creator created, regarding which Lindsay Sharp wrote again:

If you go back to Bomarzo look very closely at the stones and cave near the big bath/salon of Venus, where there is a love seat set in front of the cave and runnels carved in the rock around the cave's mouth edge. This is where the lead pipes ran to the machinery hidden behind a facade in front of the cave. The facade was a face - an oracle - that spoke and was activated by water driven bellows- the oracle is best imagined by looking at the modern version of a huge face that is a slot machine at the end of the restaurant. Vicino took his new girlfriends there on a hot day; it sighed and spoke of love as they sat on the love seat; he took them through the salon of Venus and then they had a delicious 'bath' in the huge bath.

Years later he developed a bathing complex below the small 'Crazy House' - the carriageway goes through the gate between the two baths. If you venture down to this spot, un-excavated at present, you can see the form of a huge bath, or swimming pool as we would call it. What a way to cool off! What a reason for the telling of tales among the villagers and peasants of wanton devillish behaviour by the wicked Count and his friends!

1 comment:

  1. Dear Both,

    These are wonderful images.

    The Casa Storta has, by its side, two baths with a road running down beteween them to a massive complex of baths and covered features as yet un-excavated. It was built after the first upper two levels and had a notorious contemporary reputation.

    The picture of the three Muses is of a part of the Salon of Venus, originally roofed, that is preceded by a love seat looking into a cave which originally contained an activated Oracle and was followed in sequence by a huge bath with twin tailed mermaids at each end. The use to which this elaborate experiential sequence was put, in summer, I leave to your imagination.

    At the entrance of the Parco dei Mostrei are very large water features that could be flooded and permitted extravagant spectacles of water battles and ancient myths to be played out for his guests while Vicino wined and dined them before leading them into the mysteries behind the walls of his Parco.

    No wonder his Cardinal friends failed to publicly note their friendship especially after the Counter Reformation gathered speed!