Day 743: Villa d’Este

Laetitia and her group went to Villa d’Este in Tivoli, known for its exquisite formal gardens, often celebrated in music, painting and verse.  Cardinal Ippolito Il d’Este commissioned the reconstruction of the former Benedictine cloister in 1550 when he was Governor of Tivoli.  The Cardinal was well connected.  He was the son of Duke Alfonso I d’Este and Lucrezia Borgia and the grandson of Pope Alexander IV.  The mansion is magnificent with its frescoes, mosaics, and period furniture, but what attracts most visitors is the terraced formal garden.  In addition to manicured shrubbery, archways, grottoes, and statuary representing various members of the Roman pantheon, the garden is a marvel of hydraulic engineering.  Water from the Aniene River is diverted into a cistern and then through a series of aqueducts to a dazzling array of fountains and reflecting pools.  There is the Avenue of 100 Fountains, the imposing Neptune Fountain, and Diana of Ephesus squirting streams of water from a multitude of breasts.  Laetitia’s group found the water-powered pipe organ especially interesting and enjoyed a concert played on it near the end of their visit.

At the drinking establishment in Tivoli, where Laetitia went after the tour for a glass of wine, she sat next to a Czech woman who had vacationed here every year since she was a child.  When they talked of Villa d’Este, the woman reminisced about a wild masquerade party that was held after closing time when she was in her twenties.  Consistent with the setting, the partygoers usually chose costumes with a water theme.  Among other marine or aquatic deities, the guests included Neptune and Juturna, a minor Roman goddess of fountains and springs.  The woman went dressed as Rusalka, the water sprite from Dvořák’s opera.  She was madly in love with her Czech boy friend.  He went as a water gnome and they found a way to make the evening memorable.  Laetitia distilled her story into a limerick.

On that fine bacchanalian night
When I was in costume as a sprite
And I and the gnome
Had reason to roam
As we sought a place out of the light.