ACCENT Rome: Villa D’Este, From Past to Present

This week, ACCENT Rome’s Alice Mangia describes a visit to the lavish Villa D’Este as part as ACCENT’s Cultural Activities Series, wherein ACCENT Study Centers offer optional cultural enrichment activities in complement to their regular academics.

This semester, a group of students from schools across the US went to Tivoli to visit the Villa D’Este, a magnificent Renaissance villa, as one of the cultural activities offered through the ACCENT Rome Study Center.Tivoli is only a short train ride from Rome, located in the Sabine hills, rich in history and beauty. The town is home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites, Hadrian’s Villa and Villa D’Este, and many other wonders such as a castle, a cathedral, and many Roman-era temples. Plenty of things to see for a city half the size of Rome!

As is typical of the region, the history of Villa D’Este is linked to a wealthy family. In 1550, Cardinal Ippolito D’Este was named governor of Tivoli as a gift by Pope Julius III. Ippolito was the son of Lucrezia Borgia, and was an aristocratic and wealthy lover of art and beauty.

Imagine his disappointment when, on his arrival in Tivoli, he discovered that he was going to live in a simple and humble convent, so different from the luxury he was used to at his courts in Ferrara and Rome. However, the clean air and the abundance of antiquities in the area won him over, and he decided to build a villa in Tivoli for his vacations, and to repurpose his mansion in Rome at Palazzo Monte Giordano (right in front of the ACCENT Rome Study Center!) for his business meetings. The construction of Villa d’Este took 20 years to finish, and Ippolito had only a couple of months to enjoy it before dying in 1572.

The Villa was passed down to Ippolito’s heirs and neglected for many years until the 1930s, when the Italian government acquired it.

The Villa is made up of several apartments, all richly decorated with frescoes, but it’s the gardens that make the Villa an Italian Renaissance masterpiece: terraces, sloping lawns, waterfalls, churches, and beautiful fountains with spectacular water features. Every element is carefully studied, and rife with symbolism. Ippolito was, in fact, trying to use the Villa to brand himself as the direct heir of Hercules. Words don’t do justice to the beauty of the place!

The students were particularly impressed by the Fontana dell’Organo (Organ Fountain), built using an innovative system called the hydraulic organ. Even today, the musical fountain works perfectly, filling the gardens and pathways with its charming tunes.   ~Alice Mangia, ACCENT Rome

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