By EMANUELA GNECCO
Villa Lante is not just a garden but an ecosystem. Among the historic residences and castles in the area around the city of Viterbo, this villa best represents the modern conception of the relationship between architecture and environment, artifice and nature, flora, sculptures and water.
This is evident in a fresco in the Gambara loggia which harmoniously blends the geometry of pools and paths, as well as terraces and fountains, with an ancient woodland setting, orchards and vineyards. Villa Lante perfectly interprets the Mannerist phase of the Italian Renaissance. Its rigor and rational organization, its details and symbolisms are astonishing and connect to the surrounding natural landscape
Water is the absolute protagonist. It is channeled through a complex hydraulic system: from the Cimini Mountains it follows an initially turbulent course before leaping down like a torrent and finally flowing in the "parterre d'eau".
Villa Lante is located in the town of Bagnaia, a few kilometres from Viterbo, and was built in the sixteenth century on an ancient hunting reserve or 'barco'. Gian Francesco Gambara, the town’s bishop, and his successor Alessandro Montalto, dedicated themselves to the construction of Villa Lante, one of the most famous examples of Italian gardens in the world.
Cardinal Gambara, who had a very modern taste for outdoor living, is believed to have called in one of the greatest architects of the time, Jacopo Barozzi, known as 'Il Vignola', who designed two perfectly mirrored buildings with essential lines in typical Mannerist style. They are decorated with frescoes inside to celebrate the symbols and devotions of the two ecclesiastical patrons and to praise their virtues and power. One hundred years later the villa passed to Duke Ippolito Lante della Rovere, who gave it his own name, and was later acquired by the Italian state in 1970.
The gardens are the pride and joy of Villa Lante. They cover an area of 22 hectares and include a woodland made of oaks, maples, hornbeams, laurels and holm oaks. The formal garden is bordered by a boundary wall and is enriched with water features, waterfalls and dripping grottoes. The architectures are influenced by the Vatican’s Belvedere and Villa d'Este in Tivoli inspired the waterworks: it was in fact the same architect and hydraulic engineer Tommaso Ghinucci da Siena who created both of the water systems.
The garden has sixteen meters of elevation gain and is divided into three distinct levels connected by fountains and staircases. They symbolically represent the story of humanity's descent from the golden age, as narrated by Ovid in his Metamorphoses. The four natural elements, earth, air, fire and water, are represented by the lively outlines of the peperino sculptures, of the obelisks and of the columns which decorate the magnificent fountains. In the lower parterre the great fountain "dei Mori" by Gianbologna constitutes the final act of the symbolic itinerary: the triumph of the human mind over nature, represented by water that finally manages to find its static geometric form.
The sixteen meters of altitude difference are divided into three distinct floors connected by fountains and stairways, symbolically representing the story of the descent of humanity from the golden age, as narrated by Ovid in the Metamorphoses. The agile forms of the peperino sculptures, obelisks and columns that decorate the magnificent fountains are present to symbolize the four natural elements: earth, air, fire and water. In the lower parterre, the large “dei Mori” fountain by Gianbologna which constitutes the final act of the symbolic journey: the triumph of the human mind over nature represented by water which finally manages to find its stillness in a geometric form. Emanuela Gnecco