By LIVIA DANESE
The Sacred Grove of Bomarzo is notoriously enigmatic and fascinating. Conceived by Prince Pier Francesco Orsini, it was inaugurated in 1547 and dedicated to his wife Giulia Farnese.
Abandoning all prejudices and convictions at the door, one is transported into a surreal context that combines esotericism and mythology with the placidity and beauty of Viterbo’s countryside.
The garden, also known as "Parco dei Mostri" (Monster Park), basks in its fame as a hermetic and mysterious place but represents more than just an expression of the Mannerist style’s taste for eccentricities. Nature is not accessory to the artistic caprices. On the contrary it produces the sensations of estrangement, alienation and fascination aroused by the park. The statues, the fountains and the architectures, all of which were sculpted directly in situ, seem to emerge from a natural environment that accentuates their ambiguity. The artworks therefore not only coexist with the ecosystem but also interact with it: a giant turtle that has to defend the female figure on its back, seems to takes advantage of the dense vegetation to hide and approach a whale immersed in the stream.
Visitors are invited by the sphinxes at the entrance to concentrate on the wonders of the place, suggesting that the senses, as well as the mind, will guide the way. Perhaps the phrase "every thought flies" on the Orc’s anthropomorphic head represents an invitation to abandon total rationality?
Enigmatic inscriptions and riddles, apparently overabundant nature, everything seems to be designed to make one lose balance, as the leaning house perfectly demonstrates. At the same time the park is scattered with reassuring symbols, such as the statue of the Ceres, maternal goddess of fertility, and the dancing nymphs.
Today the itinerary through the park is different from the one designed by prince Orsini because of several changes that occurred in time. This makes the interpretation of the symbols along the route even more challenging. However, the encouragement to contemplation is very clear; now all that remains is to immerse oneself in this intricate garden, composed of verdant nature, petrified follies and sibylline verses, absorbing its charm, the mysteries and the enchantment.