Italy is just filled with hidden gems: shy hilltop cities, forgotten places, overlooked artifacts and all kinds of spots off the proverbial beaten path.  They’re worth discovering, and this blog’s hidden place is Bomarzo! Or more specifically it’s gardens, known also as the “Bosco Sacro” (Sacred Grove), or the “Parco dei Mostri” (Monster Park). Monster Park, near Rome….intrigued? You should be!

Located outside of the Castle of Bomarzo (The Orsini family’s castle), this was a vision thought up by Prince Pier Francesco Orsini (a.k.a “Vicino”) for his wife Giulia Farnese. Most of the park was actually completed after her death, and was dedicated to her memory. The park’s construction was started in 1547.

The gardens include 24 pieces of stone sculpted art, with a range of subjects in mythology as well as a crooked guesthouse, fountains, and a temple dedicated to Vicino’s second wife.Bomarzo parco mostri

The architect Vicino commissioned to carry out this vision was Pirro Ligorio, well-known at the time and you might know also for Villa d’Este and finishing St. Peter’s Basilica after Michelangelo died.

All of the sculptures are sculpted from the natural bedrock.

Among the sculptures you’ll find a giant Orc, a Pegasus fountain, one of Hannibal’s elephants killing a Roman soldier, a dragon being attacked by wolves and lions, Hercules, a vertigo-inspiring crooked guesthouse, etc.

Fun little details include a picnic table inside the Orc’s mouth and the motivation behind the crooked guesthouse: a sort of practical joke!  You can climb inside the tilted building, but you will have instant vertigo, as its designed to have this effect. Why? I’ve been told it’s all part of the sense of humor of Vicino. It was customary and expected of him to build a guesthouse in his gardens, and as a way to be clever he built this very special guesthouse (that not one person was able to actually stay in).

Why the “Monster Park” exactly?  After a period of a few hundred years of abandonment, the townspeople found some of the sculptures peaking out from overgrown grass and trees and it scared the bejeezus out of them.

The park is open all year long, from 8 AM until sunset. Entrance fees are 9 Euros per adult and 7 Euros for children. There’s places to buy food and snacks inside, but you can always bring your own picnic if you plan to stay for awhile.

Take a look at their WEBSITE for more info.

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