Bagnaia: Villa Lante

A Renaissance villa in Northern Lazio that features a garden full of fountains and waterworks.

Why visit?

Many people are familiar with the famous Villa d'Este in Tivoli, near Rome. The Villa Lante is smaller, more intimate and, being about 1 1/2 hours north of Rome, mostly overlooked. 

Nevertheless you will find some stunning stonework and statuary here- and the almost 500 year old fountains, many of them still working, makes this a refreshing  and possibly wet place to visit on a warm day.

Villa Lante is in the small medieval town of Bagnaia, just outside the provincial capital of Viterbo. Map

CONSTRUCTION OF VILLA Lante was begun in 1511 during the Mannerist period and is seen as one of the finest examples of Mannerist art, architecture and particularly garden design. Mannerism can be seen as a transition phase between Renaissance and Baroque and the gardens of this period (there is another great example at nearby Bomarzo) aim to surprise the visitor with surprising sculptures, statues, and, in this case, water.

The original owner was a Cardinal called Gianfrancesco Gambara. His coat of arms included a lobster- from the Latin 'gammarus', which also gave us the Spanish word 'gamba' for shrimp. You will find Gambara's oversized-shrimp (as well as his name) throughout the garden, in a not-so-subtle attempt to reinforce the message who built this garden. 

Gambara was the bishop of Viterbo- he was also responsible for building the cathedrals in both Viterbo and Tuscania, and emblazoned them with his name as well. Modesty was not a religious virtue in those days. 

There is water everywhere. This is a view down the central staircase.
Detail of the finely carved water channel
The combination of lichen-covered stones with greenery and water is often stunning
Gambara built only one of the two pavilions (known as Casini) that you see- the second was built to match the original. But you didn't come here to visit either of these casini, as they are relatively uninteresting. The delight of this garden are the giocchi d'acqua, the water games.

During the Mannerist period people were getting bored with the strict rigidity of Classicism- Mannerists wanted to surprise and delight and water was used to great effect to create unusual effects,  including jets, fountains, and even an al-fresco dining table with a small channel of water gurgling down the center. 

How pleasant it must have been to join the cardinal and 50 of his most intimate friends for a simple dinner here!
The terracotta roofs of town of Bagnaia can be seen in the distance- the long dining table with water channel in the front. 
Streams of water are incorporated in balustrades and staircases. 
One of the many other fountains.

Getting there:
Bagnaia is only 5km from Viterbo and can be reached by bus. Viterbo can be reached by train from Rome, or by driving along the ancient Via Cassia.

It is also possible to reach Bagnaia by train. The train station is actually very close to Villa Lante. It is the 1st stop coming from Viterbo(10 min) on the Viterbo-Civitacastellana-Roma line.

You don't find these trains on the Trenitalia website, because it's not operated by Trenitalia. The operator is ATAC(the public transport authority of Rome). You can find the timetable here

There are several other great gardens in the area- for more on them, check out 4 Renaissance gardens near Rome on Lazio Explorer. 

More information:

Official Website of the Italian Ministry of Culture


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