The gardens were originally developed for the Villa Borghese Pinciana, a villa primarily used for social purposes by Cardinal Scipione Borghese. The villa was built upon the Pincian Hill, on the site of the most famous gardens of ancient Rome, the Gardens of Lucullus. Beginning in 1605, the Cardinal started transforming the land to create an extensive landscape garden.
As the garden grew, it incorporated new features and even preexisting properties already on Pincian Hill. In the 18th century, water features such as the false “Temple of Aesculapius” and a small lake were installed. In the 19th century, style of the garden was transformed to represent a more English design, which relied less on symmetry and perfection. During this period, Giovan Battista Embriaco, a professor at a Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome, invented a hydrochronometer (water clock) that now sits on a fountain in the gardens. As of 2017, it has continuously run for 150 years.
In 1911, when Rome hosted the World Fair, several buildings and exhibition halls were constructed within Villa Borghese. One notable addition was the Zoo of Rome (later renamed as the Biopark of Rome), which comprises 17 hectares of Villa Borghese. More recently in 2003, a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was built on the grounds
Since 1902, the Villa and the gardens have belonged to the Republic of Italy. Today, the building houses the Galleria Borghese, a museum showcasing much of the art commissioned by Cardinal Borghese. These include sculptures by Bernini, some of which still stand in the place that they were originally intended, and a collection of works by Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael, Rubens, and Barocci. A full list of works and information for visiting can be found on Galleria Borghese’s official site.
Other important historic ville turned museums in the gardens include Villa Giulia, which now houses the Etruscan Museum, and Villa Medici, the seat of the French Academy of Rome. Various other museums, exhibitions, a small fun park for children, restaurants, and cafes are all present at the park.
Open daily from sunrise to sunset, these gardens offers something for everyone. Whether you’re searching for a natural retreat from the city, to explore historical artifacts, or to great a great view over Rome, the gardens at Villa Borghese are worth visiting.
Pictures from Jean-Christophe BENOIST and Karelj.