Rome is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world, receiving between seven and ten million tourists a year! It’s easy to see why: you’ve got an irresistible combination of great weather, fantastic food, ancient history, rustic charm and spectacular sights. However, sharing the city with so many locals and tourists can feel overwhelming at times, especially if you are from a smaller town or city.
Welcome to the second post in a series of suggested day trips from Rome. Many of these places can be reached via public transport, as well as by car. Visiting these quieter cities, towns and villages can revitalize you and provide fascinating insight into the locals’ way of life. With your renewed energy, you’ll soon be ready to return to the hustle and bustle of Italy’s capital city.
Today I’d like to tell you about Bomarzo. It is a very small town, 42 miles north-west of Rome, located on top of a hill. It is best known for its park Parco dei Mostri (“Park of Monsters”). We drove to and from Bomarzo but apparently it can be reached by public transport (a train from Rome to Viberto then a bus and a bit of a walk). We didn’t spend much time in Bomarzo, but it seems like a very small, sweet Italian town, which apparently has a nice church and town hall which you may want to visit.
First, let me tell you a bit about its history. The park was commissioned in 1500 by Prince Pier Francesco Orsini, in memory of his late wife Giulia Farnese. He employed Pirro Ligorio to design the garden. Some of you may have heard this name before – Ligorio also designed Villa d’Este in Tivoli and completed St Peter’s Basilica after the death of Michelangelo.
Apparently at the time, Parco dei Mostri was considered grotesque and disliked by the locals. However things changed when the Spanish painter Salvador Dalí used it as inspiration for his painting The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1946). Giovanni Bettini bought the park in the 1950s and spent twenty years restoring and transforming it into a popular tourist attraction. Good call, Bettini!
Entry to Parco dei Mostri doesn’t include an audio or tour guide but you are given a map with some information about the park and its sculptures. The map includes a suggested path around the park and the 35 sculptures to look out for. Some are staggeringly large and imposing, whereas others are smaller, hidden within the trees and shrubbery. Many are carved into the rockface. There is a dramatic juxtaposition between the serenity of the beautiful, luscious park and the bold, fantastical sculptures.
The 35 sculptures include mythological figures, the disorientating Leaning House, giants, monsters, mermaids and animals; dolphins, a whale, bears, a life-sized war elephant and a dragon attacked by lions. One of the most famous ones is of a gigantic head – The Mouth of Hell – whose wide mouth is open in a voiceless roar.
Once you have marvelled at the 35 sculptures, take some time to explore and enjoy the grounds. The park is open everyday from 8am until sunset (not sure about Christmas, Easter and public holidays so double-check if you plan to visit then). There is an on-site cafe, or you can bring a picnic. There’s a €11 entrance fee for adults (children 4-13 pay €8) so I suggest making a day of it!
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow