Villa Lante, a fairy-tale of fountains and water features
The fabulous garden of Villa Lante in Bagnaia, designed as the summer residence of the bishops of Viterbo, is one of the most spectacular 16th-century Italian Mannerist gardens, attributed to the genius of Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola.
It hosts countless fountains and water features arranged on various terraces, among paths, hedges, flowers and sculptures, where the buildings almost become garden ornaments.
It is the perfect place to take a romantic stroll while contemplating all the legendary festivals that have been held here.
A princely garden for two cardinals
Villa Lante was commissioned by Cardinal Gianfrancesco Gambara of Viterbo and completed by his successor, Alessandro Montalto, as the country residence of the episcopate.
It is located in the village of Bagnaia, just four kilometres from the city. The garden was created between 1511 and 1566, at a time when noble families and cardinals were challenging each other to design the most surprising and exclusive residences, including the Farnese with their villa in Caprarola, the Orsini with the Sacred Grove in Bomarzo, and the Bishops of Viterbo with Villa Lante.
The first part of the garden is a grandiose parterre centred around the Fountain of the Moors, divided into four basins, bordered by balustrades: intricate surrounding boxwood hedges form 12 sculpted flowerbeds.
From here, a succession of terraces allow water to flow down the hillside in spectacular fountains and waterfalls.
A staircase leads down to the circular Fountain of the Lamps, where water gushes out in small jets like candles.
In front of it stretches the Cardinal’s Table, a ten-metre-long table made of peperino stone with a groove in the centre that allows water to flow along it, historically making it ideal for keeping summer refreshments cool.
Next is the Fountain of the Giants, with statues of the Arno and Tiber, followed by the Fountain of the Chain, a stepped waterfall along which water flows between pools shaped like prawn claws (the symbol of Cardinal Gambara).
Last but not least, you will find yourself at the Fountain of the Dolphins, followed by the Fontana del Diluvio fountain, in the form of a grotto, where the garden may end, but your visit continues on to the park where other fountains await, such as the oval-shaped Pegasus Fountain, with a winged horse at the centre.
Two in one: the twin villas
But where is the villa itself? The garden is so lush that it almost engulfs the actual residence. The bishops lived in the twin villas in the parterre at the level of the Fountain of the Moors, Palazzina Montalto and Palazzina Gambara, which are almost identical despite being built in different periods. These square structures both have a loggia and are topped by a lantern. Inside, however, they are very different, at least decoratively.
In the Gambara villa, landscape paintings prevail, with artwork depicting other surrounding villas, such as Villa Farnese in Caprarola and Villa Lante itself, while seascapes and illusionist artwork features in the Montalto villa, which was completed in the middle of the 17th century.