"Tu ch'entri qua con mente parte a parte et dimmi poi se tante meraviglie sien fatte per inganno o pur per arte."
These cryptic words are inscribed into the rock that makes up the statues and monuments in Bomarzo's Park of Monsters in the province of Viterbo, 90 km north of Rome. I came to this park most recently 4 years ago on a foggy December afternoon to revisit Prince Pier Francesco (a.k.a. Vicino) Orsini's mysterious park, which he originally called the Sacro Bosco (Sacred Wood) at its construction in the 16th century.
The prince dedicated the park, a Mannerist labrinth of monsters, exotic animals, mythical characters, monsters and bizarre buildings, to his deceased wife, Giulia Farnese. The architect Pirro Ligorio, who also was commissioned by the Vatican at the time, elaborated the plans for Orsini's park that walks its visitors through a "wild" woods where enormous mounds of Tartufo rock jut out in the shape of elephants, dragons, lions, giant turtles, temples, Pegasus, Orcus, Neptune, Hercules, Sirens and Sphinxes.
Is it art? Is it a mystery? Is it a park? Is it a graveyard? Is it mythical? Is it real? Some of these questions have been pondered by writers and artists who have visited Bomarzo over the centuries.
The park was abandoned after Prince Orsini's death in 1585 and was not revived until this past century by the couple, Giancarlo and Tina Severi Bettini. They are buried in the temple, with perhaps, the remains of the beloved Giulia.
No one can exactly explain the precise reasons for the collection of characters and pathway through the wood.
With that winter fog I witnessed in 2005, the mystery felt alive even 4 centuries after its creation.
You walk into a leaning house which plays with your perception of reality and construction. You start to get confused about direction and gravity as the doorways and floors tilt and the proportions become too small compared to the size of your human body.
Monsters glare at you beyond their mossy stare and frozen movement. The sun struggles to reach the ground under the blanket of foliage in the dense wood, considered a park. It is wild yet has been controlled by a human's handiwork. This is not your traditional English or even Italian Renaissance garden. Everything is exaggerated in Orsini's natural oasis, built as a monument to death.
The man was rich and depressed. He commissioned a grotesque work to be made of rock and trees. Inscriptions provoke the visit as he moves through the space:
"Voi che pel mondo gite errando vaghi di veder meraviglie alte et stupende venite qua, dove son faccie horrende, elefanti, leoni, orchi et draghi."
"Sol per sfogare il core"
I highly recommend this bizarre park of monstrosities. It's a unique experience into the past, sublime, mysterious and dark world of a former prince.
For more information, go to Bomarzo's website.
Dragon with Lions
Hercules and Cacus
Temple and tomb
Me inside of Orcus' mouth