Bomarzo is the place where the Parco dei Mostri was born between 1552 and 1580 in memory of a great love: that of Prince Pier Francesco Orsini, called Vicino, for his lady. Singular and in some ways mysterious figure of a gunman, Corsini was a man of letters with an intense life spent in battles, art, poetry. But no one knows who his beloved was: in her honor there is this park that after four centuries another lady, Tina Severi Bettini, has restored to its former glory.
The monumental complex of Sacro Bosco
So the Parco dei Mostri in Bomarzo, conceived by the Neapolitan architect Pirro Ligorio who completed San Pietro after Michelangelo’s death, has become one of the most visited destinations in all of Viterbo’s Tuscia where true environmental presences, in a mix of allegorical art and vegetation, intertwine, contrast and integrate continuously in the wooded valley.
The protagonists? Stone animals and figures: elephants, dragons, turtles, Hercules, Sleeping Beauty, mermaids, three-headed monsters which, after centuries of abandonment following the death of Prince Orsini, were restored by the Bettini family starting in 1960.
Many have questioned the cultural values and significance of this extraordinary garden, some seeing an esoteric path there, some a simple game dictated by research and amazement, some a celebration of love for a woman, perhaps his wife Giulia Farnese.
Our advice? Visit it by unleashing your imagination and interpreting this symbolic labyrinth according to what inspires you. Starting with the waterfall and Proteo Glauco’s mask at the beginning of the path which, after crossing the driveway and the entrance, awaits you with its mouth wide open and the demonic aspect, surmounted by a globe with a heraldic castle.
The first encounter, which progressively reveals the “Villa delle Meraviglie”, the other name by which the park is known, after passing through a crenellated door is with two stone sentries in the shape of a sphinx, a symbol of enigma and doubt.
Subsequently, the statue of the god Pan Giano invites the visitor to enter the Sacred Wood in the presence of the huge statue of Hercules who rend Cacus, one of the first important and imposing figures and an anticipation of the philosophy behind the idea of this park: the struggle of good against evil.
The symbol of the Parco dei Mostri is the ogre, perhaps a symbolic representation of the gateway to Hades. Inside, benches and stone tables are carved out that invite you to an original picnic in the huge open mouth. What is most striking, however, is the sentence carved on the lips of the monster, bearing the inscription: “every thought flies”, which perhaps wants to support the need to abandon reason in favor of intuition in order to reach the last stages of the esoteric path.
Follow the itinerary but indulge in some digressions walking among the terrible dragon attacked by a lion and a dog, the elephant that crushes and raises a warrior, the killer whale known as the whale and the turtle on whose back rests a mysterious female figure cloaked reminiscent of the blindfolded goddess “Fortuna”. Next to it is Pegasus, the winged horse, who invites you to follow the itinerary among fountains, obelisks, mottos and inscriptions.
And if you feel observed, don’t worry! You are only surrounded by statues of all shapes and sizes that focus their stone gaze on the observer like the two mythical half-female and half-snake figures, the Echidna and the winged Fury, with two lions in the center.
At the end of the tour there is also a small temple designed by Vignola built towards the end of the works in the Parco dei Mostri and watched by the monstrous Cerberus, the three-headed dog. It is a Doric-style building with an octagonal shape with a portal decorated with a large empty tympanum overlooking the entire garden. The ceiling is decorated with the Farnese lilies and the Orsini roses, in memory of Vicino’s union with his beloved wife Giulia.
Our favorite sculpture? The Leaning House where you feel a strange sense of vertigo not only entering the building askew, but even approaching it and looking at it from the outside. Once inside, then, everything is built to challenge the senses and make you dizzy.
And whether or not it is a real path of purification of the soul through the encounter with sculptures representing the entire Universe of the time, enjoy all the “wonder” and the amazement that the “Sacred Wood” gives to those who visit it.
Remember that with the sole exception of guide dogs for blind people, no animals are allowed in the Park. We left our Otto in the car in the shade of the tall trees in the parking lot, taking advantage of the cool spring temperatures.
How to visit the Parco dei Mostri di Bomarzo
The Park is open every day of the year from 8.30am to 7.00pm
Opening hours are indicative and may vary depending on the season or for other reasons. We recommend that you always contact the Park Authority to check the exact time of entry and the cost of the ticket.