The garden was designed in a Mannerist style, most likely by famous architect Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola, who also designed the nearby Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola. The garden was commissioned by Cardinal Gianfrancesco Gambara and, after more than 50 years of work, was completed in 1566. Originally called Villa Gambara, after the cardinal, the gardens later became known as Villa Lante to reflect the owner during the 17th century: the Duke of Bomarzo, Ippolito Lante Montefeltro della Rovere. Although the garden exchanged hands throughout the years, the name Villa Lante stuck.
Upon entering the gardens, the first site are two identical houses, which sit only a few meters apart. Although one might assume that they were built at the same time, the first was actually constructed by Cardinal Gambara while the second was a copy commissioned 30 years later after the former owner’s death.
Behind the buildings is the Quadrato, a square parterre (a formal garden with plant beds, manicured hedges, and well-defined paths) which is enclosed by high boxed hedges. In the center of the Quadrato is the “Fontana dei Mori” by Flemish sculptor Giambologna. A highly-complex fountain with two lions, three tiers, and four life-sized Moorish men, the fountain also integrates the crest of Montalto, the owner of the gardens after the death of Gambara.
Continuing along the path leads to the successive terraces, fountains, and monuments. On the second terrace is the Fontana dei Lumini, a circular fountain imitating Roman oil lamps, where the jets of water appear like flames in the sunlight. This exemplary hydraulic system, which is found throughout the gardens, has been attributed to engineers and architects Tommaso Ghinucci and Pirro Ligorio. As a classical scholar, Ligorio was influenced by ancient Roman sites such as Hadrian’s Villa, which he used in his designs of gardens such as Villa D’Este and Villa Lante.
After passing the third terrace, which offers further water features, the next landing offers the large Fountain of the Deluge, grottoes, and two additional small houses. These small casini share architectural features with the larger houses found at the entrance of the gardens, including the name of Cardinal Gambara. Adding to the romance, one of the small homes even leads to a secret garden with hedges and topiaries.
Surrounding the gardens is an untouched natural wood, which stands in stark contrast to the overly-detailed Mannerist garden and the medieval village of Bagnaia.
Despite being privately owned for the duration of its existence, today Villa Lante is owned by the Republic of Italy and is a member of the Grandi Gardini Italiani association. It can be visited for a small fee. For those on a budget, it is possible to visit the gardens for free on the first of each month.
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Pictures from Roberto Ferrari, Jeff, Tom Toft and Ljuba Brank.