A Renaissance Fountain: The Villa d’Este
The Villa d’Este, commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, was created to be a stunning terraced garden done in the late Renaissance mannerist style. This required bringing sufficient water supply to the setting for the use of pools, fountains, cascades and troughs. The final result is a 17th century villa that features water play structures. This style of villa would be repeated for the next two centuries in villas from Portugal to Poland.
The villa drew inspiration from the nearby palatial retreat of Emperor Hadrian, the Villa Adriana, and used roman techniques of hydraulic engineering to supply the fountains with water. The fantasy garden, featuring architectural feats and exciting water features, would have a lasting influence on the European landscaping.
A 16th century courtyard surrounds the villa on three sides. The fountain, on a side wall, features a sculpture of a sleeping nymph guarded by the d’Este eagles. The central entrance leads to the old apartment of Ippolito d’Este. It features vaulted ceilings that are frescoed in allegorical designs. The library and bedchamber of the cardinal are to the left and right, and his bedchamber and chapel lie beyond that.
The gardens are perhaps the most famous part of the entire villa, most celebrated throughout all of Europe. The garden is planned on a central axis with subsidiary cross-axes. The garden features many fountains and pools and troughs, and the water is supplied from the Aniene. The upper terrace of the villa features a balustrade balcony at the left end, creating a stunning view of the below gardens. There are symmetrical stairs that lead to the next terrace. It is here where the Fountain of the Great Bicchierone sits, where water freely flows from natural rock into a scrolling shell-like cup.
The next level, there are stairs at either end to take you to this terrace, features an elaborate fountain called the Rometta, and the Avenue of the Hundred Fountains that connects this fountain to the Fontana dell’Ovato at the opposite end. The Hundreds Fountain features 100 fountains in different shapes like lilies, eagles, obelisks, and small boats from which the water exits. One of the many great features of this villa is that on this particular terrace, you can walk behind the water through a rusticated arcade of the nymphaeum.
Uniting this terrace to the next is the fountain of the Dragons. This fountain dominates the central view of the villa gardens. This fountain was erected for Pope Gregory XIII, whose coat of arms was the dragon. From here, there are stairs that lead down to three rectangular fish ponds at the lowest point in the gardens. It is here where the Fountain of Neptune is located.
The Villa d’Este is included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. It‘s impressive collection of formal gardens, nymphs, grottoes, plays of water, and music which creates an enchanting and seemingly magical place.