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Sacro Bosco/Villa Orsini

As pure fantasy, this garden is without equal. It was made in a wood and many of its giant sculptures were carved from living rock. Stylistically, Bomarzo represents a step towards the drama of the Baroque. Poking gentle fun at the egotistical iconography of the Este and the Medici families, it is also a pre-cursor of the English landscape garden. With the elegant taste of a renaissance duke, Vincino Orsini created features with some resemblence to those in a modern theme park. But his aims were altogether serious. Orsini was a military captain with literary tastes. He conceived the garden as a Sacred Wood (Sacro Bosso), inspired by the description of Arcadia in Virgil's Aeneid. There is an enormous laughing mask. A moss-covered tortoise supports a statue of fame. A leaning house illustrates the corrupt state of the world. A stone dragon sits beside an oversized Etruscan vase. The figures came from Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. The garden reaches its culmination in a Temple of Divine Love. The Sacro Bosso does not appear in pre-1950 books on Italian gardens. Public interest revived after an enthusiastic visit by the surrealist painter Salvator Dali in 1948.

Parco dei Mostri, Bomarzo, Lazio, Italy

All year, Open 8.30 am to dusk

Visit the Sacro Bosco/Villa Orsini website

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