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Villa Orsini, Bomarzo, , Italy

More sculpture park than garden, Bomarzo’s Sacro Bosco occupies a lush area on the grounds of the Villa Orsini. A web of looping trails leads though open glades, past rocky outcrops, and down steep ravines inhabited by giant, often grotesque statues of gods, mythical beasts, and other marvels. At every turn there’s an encounter with some unexpected and eccentric work of art. An elephant with a tower on its back; a huge turtle bearing the statue of a goddess; a leaning stone fun house. Some of the moss-covered figures are badly worn and their symbolism long lost, but there’s no mistaking the ogre whose gaping cave of a mouth (big enough to walk into without stooping) represents the entrance to the underworld. If there’s something melancholy about nature having reclaimed much of the “Parco dei Monstri,” as it’s known locally, it fits the spirit of the place and the story of its creator. In 1552, Prince Vicino Orsini started work on a Villa of Wonders for his beloved wife, who died tragically young, which caused the project to be shelved; it was later completed as a monument to her memory.

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Sacro Bosco

More sculpture park than garden, Bomarzo’s Sacro Bosco occupies a lush area on the grounds of the Villa Orsini. A web of looping trails leads though open glades, past rocky outcrops, and down steep ravines inhabited by giant, often grotesque statues of gods, mythical beasts, and other marvels. At every turn there’s an encounter with some unexpected and eccentric work of art. An elephant with a tower on its back; a huge turtle bearing the statue of a goddess; a leaning stone fun house. Some of the moss-covered figures are badly worn and their symbolism long lost, but there’s no mistaking the ogre whose gaping cave of a mouth (big enough to walk into without stooping) represents the entrance to the underworld. If there’s something melancholy about nature having reclaimed much of the “Parco dei Monstri,” as it’s known locally, it fits the spirit of the place and the story of its creator. In 1552, Prince Vicino Orsini started work on a Villa of Wonders for his beloved wife, who died tragically young, which caused the project to be shelved; it was later completed as a monument to her memory.