Bomarzo and the Monster Garden

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The sign for the Sacred Wood is adjacent to the road which leads to our house.  We live right beside the Monster Park!

The sculptures were created by Prince Vicino Orsini, grief-stricken after his wife died in 1552.  The great architect Pirro Ligorio designed the rock sculptures as the behest of the Prince and include figures of monsters, dragons, mythological subjects and exotic animals, a crooked house, a funerary temple, fountains, seats, and obelisks with carved mottoes and inscriptions.  There is no coherence or commonality, and even the most impassioned scholars can’t really make sense of it all.  After centuries of neglect, artists and intellectuals began to pay attention to it, including   Salvador Dali, Goethe, and others.  It was restored during the 1970’s.

So let’s take a look.  There are SO MANY amazingly fanciful huge massive sculptures.

Cerberus, the three-headed guardian of the Underworld.

Proteus, also known as Glauco. The colossal head with its prophetic mounts and long waves is the son of NeptunekProteus . The castle on top of the globe is meant to be Orsini’s, signifying the power of the family in the world.



Elephants carrying castles were popular symbols in medieval and Renaissance art, standing for both strength and restraint, often with reference to Hannibal’s famous use of elephants to invade the Italian peninsula. This elephant holds a wounded or dead Roman soldier in its trunk who, in turns, holds a now unidentifiable object loosely in his right hand. Scholars argue over whether he is being caught or thrown by elephant–protecting or discarding. Regardless, the elephant represents both the triumphs and defeats of Roma. It is an African elephant and, therefore, likely to be recalling also Scipio, an African who, according to legend, never left the side of his war elephants.


The strange, leaning house serves as a passage to the upper garden level. The head-spinning unease of standing inside is meant to spur you on to the rest of the garden. The Orsini coat of arms and motto are inscribed on the facade of the house. As for me, I just wanted to get out of there!


The wrestling giants depict the struggle between good and evil. Hercules, as the protector of the weak, stands as he “rents asunder” Caucus who stole food from the poor. Hercules serene expression indicates that his intention is not one of mere brutality but a moral act in overcoming evil.


Proserpine (and Luisa) greet visitors with gifts of Italian melons.


The turtle, a blessed symbol of the feminine powers of the waters of Aphrodite, fortitude, strength and longevity, supports the female figure of winged victory standing on the globe. They all face the water and stare into the open jaws of the whale, representing power and ancient knowledge.


The Whale


The Ogre. . .Orcus is also one of the names of the king of the Underworld. The crumbling inscription around the lips names of the extraordinary infernal vision reads: All Reason Departs. It can be completed with reference to Dante’s inscription above the mouth of hell in which Dante’s damned are told to abandon hope. The tongue forms a bizzarre picnic table inside, with seating for a small party.


The sculptor gave this Venus the matronly, hard features of an Etruscan woman, naming her as the Virile Venus, friend of Mars, guardian of chastity and virtue.



So there you have some of the highlights of the Sacro Bosco a Bomarzo.  There really is so much more!  WE heard a lot of English spoken here, the most we’ve heard in 3 weeks.  It is a great place for families and kids.

The weather was breezy and the morning was quite enjoyable.  We found some lunch at a bar called Il Quadrofoglia (The Four Leaves) and had a pleasant conversation with an American couple and their 8-year-old son, traveling fromSan Diego to Sicily for a family wedding.  

Then, of course, it was back home were we SWORE we wouldn’t have a nap.

Fake News. . .We had a nap!  

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