There is a reason why the Villa d’Este is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Federico had visited once as young boy with his family and remembered it as being beautiful. I was curious to find out exactly what was so grand about it. Since we had just a little over two weeks to spare on our vacation, I made a point to include it on our itinerary. Rome of course has plenty of wonderful, historic places to visit, like the Vatican, Piazza Navona and the Colosseum to name a few, but step just a bit of the city and you see that the countryside is not lacking in beauty either. I decided on a DIY day trip from Rome to Tivoli to see the awe inspiring Villa d’Este. I was not disappointed at all and l don’t think you will be either. Here is your Tivoli day trip itinerary.
How to get from Rome to Villa d’Este in Tivoli:
Where is Villa d’ Este?
Tivoli is located about 19 miles north east of Rome in the Lazio region. The quickest way to get from Rome to Tivoli is by car of course. That was not on the cards for us. I hate him driving in that city. We were left with two options to get from Rome to Tivoli via public transport, bus and metro train. We opted for the train because it was less convoluted for us. We took the metro to Tiburtina station on the metro B line and switched to the regional train side that took us to Tivoli. There are several trains that will stop at Tivoli. The trick is finding the most direct one, with just one stop (Termini to Tivoli as the first stop) which takes about 35 minutes. Other trains with as many as 12 stops before Tivoli obviously takes longer. The funny part is that the cost is still the same for both, €2.20 each way.
Once you exit the Tivoli train station, walk across the street, to the left of the cafe and walk down the narrow stairs. Follow the path with everyone and cross the beautiful bridge and yep..walk up the stairs. At the top of the stairs is a bus stop. If you’re tired, take a bus to Villa d’Este by taking the bus number 4. Get off at Piazza Garibaldi and you’re there even if you can’t see it. You need to walk towards the back where they sell postcards etc. If you’re game, walk a bit more (about half a mile). Turn left and keep walking. Follow the signs to the villa, past the Roman ruins till you get to the little plaza Garibaldi.
If you would rather take a bus, you can catch a COTRAL bus outside the Ponte Mammolo metro station which is on the B line. It stops just a few yards from the villa, at stop Largo Nation Unite. The bus is blue, you can’t miss it and runs pretty frequently, every 10 minutes so it’s a good option as well.
Villa D’Este : a little history:
The villa was the brainchild of Cardinal Ippolito II d”Este, grandson of Pope Alexander VI and son of Alfonso I d’Este and Lucrezia Borgia. Thanks to nepotism, he became a very rich man. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Nepotism was big in the case of the Palazzo Doria Pamphili as well. The Catholic church’s history is not flattering by any means the more l read. They were just a bunch of rich assholes who only took from the church and lined their own pockets. Not much has changed in my opinion :-). He eventually ended up with the governorship of Tivoli, a position that suited him nicely since he loved art and this gave him jurisdiction over Hadrian’s villa and other historic sites from where he pillaged in order to build a villa that surpassed the ones built by the Romans.
Meaning of Tivoli – according to Wikipedia, Tivoli refers to gardens, theaters and venues. Other famous examples of Tivoli include Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen (which looked stupendous from the outside when we visited) and Tivoli World, which is an amusement park in the Costa de Sol area of Spain.
As governor, he was given a small villa that was a former convent. This was expanded under rule. A lot of houses, roads and public buildings were demolished to make way for this monstrous villa. Despite a dozen lawsuits, he proceeded with his plan. The river Aniene was diverted to provide enough water for the fountains and cascades. He hired the best painters and sculptors to work on the villa and it cost him a lot of money. He ran for papacy 5 times and never won. He died almost penniless, pawning his silver to entertain the last important guest to the villa, Pope Gregory VIII and is buried in a small church that is attached to the villa. The villa was acquired by the Italian State after WWI. Prior to that it had been owned by a succession of noblemen, including the Este family who had a hard time with the upkeep. There was bombing damage during WWI but restoration work was carried out to bring it back to the glory days. The views absolutely wow you. Just stunning!!! The whole valley lays below you and it just seems to go on forever. The courtyard of the villa is where the cloister of the convent used to be. It’s always amazing to me how entitled “men of the cloth” were, and come to think of it are, even now.
The apartment space is the first place you see when you enter (after paying your entry fee of course). The salon has awesome views of the gardens and you could spend a whole lot of time just staring. Inside the empty rooms, you get a glimpse of how exciting it must have been in the good old days. There are wonderful frescoes on the ceiling of all the rooms. I remember names like Hall of Venus, Hall of Moses, Hall of Nobility, Hall of Glory and Hall of Noah (my favorite) which had great landscape artwork including one of Noah’s Ark landing on Mount Aratat. There were plenty more halls but after a while they all started to look alike, so we ditched them and headed for the gardens and the amazing fountains. I think it would be awesome if they added furniture to the rooms, like they have at the Palazzo Doria Pamphili in Rome which was amazing. There is a sort of disconnect after a while because beautiful as the rooms were, they really needed the extra oomph and wow factor that furniture and more period pieces would have provided. The furnishings apparently started disappearing from Villa d’Este just after 1751 when they were moved to Modena. At some point, the villa was occupied by French soldiers (twice), and they took away lots of the decorations that were left. Being such a huge villa, especially one that produced no income and was super expensive to run, it was inevitable that it would be abandoned of course.
It was years later, in 1850 when the villa was owned by Cardinal Gustav that the villa was refurbished and restored to glory. Once again, it became a sought after destination for famous artists, musicians and writers including the famous composer Franz Liszt. One of the 2 pieces he composed there is titled “Les Jeux d’Eau a la Villa d’Este” which translates to “the water games at villa D’Este”. I’m guessing it refers more to the “music” of the fountains.
Related Reading: Borghese Gallery in Rome
There are in total 51 fountains, 364 water jets, 64 waterfalls, 220 basins and all work without pumps, just gravity. Very impressive indeed. Once again, you definitely need comfy shoes and water bottle (you can fill and refill from 2 drinkable water fountains in the garden). It’s a bit of a walk down the double sided stairs. I am certainly not going to write about all 51 fountains. I will mention some of the memorable ones. The current entrance was not the ones used by the guests and household in those days. They actually came up from the bottom of the garden so they could experience the different levels in all their glory. It must have been magnificent. I picture those movies like Emma with the ladies in their tremendous gowns and men in spiffy attire.
The Fountain of the Organ at Villa d’Este:
First of its kind in the world, this fountain plays music through some intricate and delicate machinery. It is said that when Pope Gregory XII visited the villa, he insisted on having them open the interior of the fountain because he was convinced that they had someone on the inside playing the music. There was a lot of detail going to making things work and over the years it was in decay and non functional. In 2003, after a long restoration and replacement of parts with modern machinery, the organ plays again. There are 144 pipes controlled by aa cylinder and water operated. It is truly a magnificent sight when you see this fountain coupled with the fountain of Neptune from the bottom. The Bellagio has nothing on this bad boy! The organ plays for 4 minutes every two hours. It’s worth hearing and seeing.
Fountain of Neptune:
The original fountain had been designed by the master, Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 17th century. The design called for water to cascade down from the fountain of the organ, producing a loud ear shattering sound. Completely neglected for 200 years, it was brought back to life in the 1930’s by an architect by the name of Attilio Rossi who used what was left of the original fountain by Bernini.
The fish ponds below the fountain of Neptune are also very picturesque. The definitely remind me of the gardens of the Alcazar of Seville and the one in Cordoba. It doesn’t get more picturesque than this. A lot of people just sat along the edge of the ponds and just took in the surroundings.
Fountain of Diana of Ephesus:
I admit l just liked this one because it’s funny looking. This is also known as the Fountain of Mother Nature. Water squats out from her breasts, like 20 of them and it just looked funny when l had Federico pose in front of it :-).
We spent about four hours at the villa checking out rooms and fountains and l think that is about right for a visit. We enjoyed walking around and sitting on the edge of the garden overlooking the beautiful scenery. Walking back up was not too much fun :-) and l put it off as much as l could. The good thing is you could climb some, rest and continue on. There was always something you missed. For those with walking difficulty, there was a golf cart used to ferry people up. I assume you had to inform them before going down to reserve space.
Is Villa d’Este in Tivoli worth visiting?
You betcha! Especially for nature lovers. The good thing is that because the grounds are so vast, it never feels crowded. There were plenty of people when we visited and l did not feel rushed. If you have the time, you should add it to your list of must sees on any Rome visit. We had thought we would be able to squeeze in a visit to Hadrian’s Villa as well, but were not, so we saved that for another time.
Another alternative to discovering Rome is a Big Bus adventure:
The opening times for Villa d’ Este can be found on their site.
Entry fee is €8 per person.
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Have you been to Villa d’Este? If yes, did you enjoy it? If not, would you like to visit or do you think there’s enough to do in Rome?