55km, 1 hour 15 minutes
A masterpiece of the Renaissance and of the Italian garden, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage, with its impressive concentration of fountains, nymphs, grottoes, water plays and music, Villa d’Este is a much-copied model in the European Mannerist and Baroque gardens.
The villa was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, son of Alfonso I and Lucrezia Borgia (Ferrara 1509 – Rome 1572), on a site that in ancient times was already the site of a Roman villa.
The story of its construction is tied to the vicissitudes of its first owner: for the essential contribution given by the Cardinal d’Este to his election in 1550, Pope Julius III del Monte wanted to thank him by appointing him as life governor of Tivoli and its territory.
The Cardinal arrived in Tivoli and made a triumphal entry, but he suddenly realized that he would have to live in an old and uncomfortable convent.
Ippolito was accustomed to something else, in his Ferrara and also in Rome, but the air of Tivoli was healthy for him and also – as a great lover of Roman antiquities – he was very interested in the findings that abounded in the area.
So he decided to transform the convent into a villa.
This was supposed to be the twin of the grand palace that he was building at the same time in Rome, Monte Giordano; so that, while the Roman palace was to serve at “official” parties in the City, the villa of Tivoli acted as a pleasant place for meetings and longer and more thoughtful talks.
Not surprisingly, the place where stood the villa had the name of “Valley Gaudente” (pleasure valley).
The work was entrusted to the architect Pirro Ligorio, helped by an impressive number of artists and artisans.
The Cardinal had just enough time to enjoy the solemn inauguration of the villa, which took place in September 1572 with the visit of Pope Gregory XIII, when he died in December 2nd of the same year.
In 1918, after the First World War, the house passed to the Italian State which began major restoration work and opened it to the public. Another series of restorations was later executed to repair the damages caused by dropping some bombs on the complex during the last world war.