This week, we spotlight one of the Lazio region’s hidden gems: the beautiful Giardino Ninfa. An hour south of Rome, these gardens house thousands of different plant species and have hosted centuries of political intrigue. Programs Coordinator Alice Mangia details the unique history of this fairytale garden.
The Lazio region, home to the city of Rome, contains some of Italy’s greatest surprises. Often underestimated, the areas surrounding Rome offer many great day trip opportunities from beaches to lakes to hilly villages. Last week, UCEAP students explored a site roughly an hour south of Rome: the Medieval village of Sermoneta and the fairy-tale garden of Ninfa.
The history of this area is full of intrigue and controversy. It is linked to the Caetani family, who became the governing authority of the area in the late 1200s thanks to the influence of Benedetto Caetani, who had just been nominated Pope. The family became rich and powerful and built their imposing castle – Castello Caetani— on a hill overlooking the Pontine Plain.
However, when Alessandro Borgia became Pope in 1499, the family lost everything. The castle was first used as a fortress, then a warehouse, and finally abandoned and left in ruins. The same fate befell the Garden of Ninfa, where malaria spread due to the marshy environment and poor administration.
It was only thanks to Ada Bootle Wilbraham, wife of Onorato Caetani, and her sons Gelasio and Roffredo that Sermoneta and Ninfa survived. The Caetani family began renovating the space, draining the marsh, planting more than 1,300 plant species, and restoring the ruins. Roses, wisteria, and other flora freely cover the ruins and bridges, making the garden the fairy tale wonderland that it still is today. Even the New York Times described Ninfa as one of the most beautiful and romantic gardens in the world! In fact, the picturesque streets, monuments, and castle have served as the backdrop for many movies since the early 1900s .
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