Europe Week Eight: Tivoli


I spend a lot of time daydreaming about beautiful places, and gardens are probably some of the most magical places that come to mind. When our class took a day trip to Tivoli last week, I couldn't contain my excitement as I pranced around gardens drooling at the view at every crevice of this water-filled and flawlessly landscaped city.


Roman emperor Hadrian, a well-traveled diplomat, chose to live in the countryside of Tivoli instead of Rome. With his expansive property, he built a villa for himself the size of a town inspired by his travels to Greece and Egypt. With lakes, fountains, palaces, baths, temples, and gardens, Hadrian, an amateur designer, had the time of his life experimenting with architecture. (What a dream.) The ruins of his villa are all that remain today, but it was breathtaking walking through the vast complex filled with groves of olive trees that ultimately led us to the canopo, where an outdoor banquet room was used for the emperor and his guests to lavishly dine laying down to amidst waterfalls, fountains, and streams.


We walked around the modern town of Tivoli during a brief lunch break. We crossed the Ponte Gregoriano, and peered down at the gorge and little waterfalls of Villa Gregoriana. We grabbed pizza and sat across from the Temple of Vesta, an astonishing sight immortalized in the paintings from the Grand Tour era. 


This Renaissance water garden is the highlight of Tivoli, and the most breathtaking piece of landscape I've ever seen. Built by the pope's grandson over a convent in the 16th century, the ornately-decorated palace and dazzling gardens were intended to impress the cardinal's guests. The wondrous Italian Renaissance garden was constructed over a terraced hill of manicured hedges and trees and extravagant fountains that solely run on gravity and hydraulics supplied by water from the nearby river. The refreshing sounds of water led us atop, around, and under countless fountains and water troughs and mini waterfalls - I was in paradise. No wonder Paolo chose to take Lizzie McGuire all the way out here from Rome to woo her. 


We visited the Mariotti quarries nearby, the source of a majority of large-scale travertine projects built around the world. It's mind-blowing visiting the Getty Center back in LA and just a few months later being able to see where this cream-colored limestone came from halfway around the world. The quarry smelled heavily of sulfur, but seeing the giant saw cut through huge blocks of rock with cooling squirts of water was a delight. The Jubilee Church nearby is another one of Richard Meier's travertine projects. The first contemporary-style church I've seen in Europe, the building was astounding in its grandeur and simplicity.