- The Monster Park (Sacred Grove) at Bomarzo
- Last Edited:: 07 March 2012
A must-see in this area. It is known throughout Italy as one of the country's best kept treasures.
In the 1500's, Prince Vicino Orsini had this fabulous and grotesque fairyland built in memory of his late wife. It sits in a deep valley that is overlooked by the Orsini Palace and the houses of the village. Prince Orsini's park, Bosco Sacro (Sacred Grove), is filled with grotesque figures carved from natural rock. Nature and art have created a surrealistic fantasy: the Mouth of Hell (an ogre's face so big that people can walk into its gaping mouth), a crude Hercules slaying an Amazon, nymphs with butterfly wings, a huge tortoise with a statue on its shell, a harpy, a mermaid, snarling dogs, lions, and much, much more.
A Debated History
There is no question that this was the work of a true master, but debate surrounds the question of which master. It has long been believed that the architect Pirro Ligorio, who is credited with finishing St.Peter's Cathedral after Michelangelo died and designing the famous Villa D'Este (The Tivoli Gardens), designed the Sacred Grove. However, recent evidence suggests that it was designed by the renaissance genius, Michelangelo himself. It is said that Michelangelo designed it, while a group of his best students carried out the major work.
In the world of art
The Sacred Grove (or Monster Park) was a favorite of 20th-century artists Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dalí, who discussed it to a great extent. Additionally, Bomarzo's story and the life of Prince Orsini were the subject of a novel by the Argentinian writer Manuel Mujica Lainez, Bomarzo (1962). Mujica Lainez went on to write a libretto based on his novel, which was set to music by Alberto Ginastera in 1967. 'Bomarzo' premiered in Washington in 1976. It was banned by Argentina's dictatorship, but Lainez and Ginastera were awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
There is very little known about this mystical place, but there are several prevailing stories that you will hear from the locals. It is generally agreed that the Prince chose to create the park as a monument to his wife after she had passed away. Most stories claim that he had lost his sanity after her death, and had the park created to reflect his state of mind. Some say that it was his way of conveying his anguish over her death, citing that the leaning house was to make others understand how dizzy he was, and the echo inside the Mouth of Hell was to convey the confusion in his head. Other stories note his obsession with the seven wonders of the world, which are referred to in several inscriptions inside the park. They say that he was obsessed with creating the eighth wonder of the world. Others cite that it was a statement against the church, considering that at the time all sanctioned art was religious in nature, and this park was seen almost as pornography.
Nobody really knows for certain. Some may be true, or it may be a mixture of all of these stories. One thing is certain: It is an extremely unique and beautiful place, and it was certainly the world's first theme park!
The location is off the beaten path, so you will need to come with your own car or a tour that visits this location. The Bomarzo Monster Park is a frequent stop for many of our tours, since it is extremely close to our home base at Soriano nel Cimino.
If you are not coming on one of our tours, you can find it about an hour north of Rome off the A1 Autostrada. Get off at the Orte exit, then follow the signs for Viterbo. Once you are on the freeway for Viterbo, look for the Soriano / Bomarzo exit, and follow the signs for Bomarzo. You will find a sign pointing the way as soon as you have passed the town of Bomarzo on your left. If you are coming from Florence, get off the A1 at the Attigliano exit and follow the signs for Bomarzo. You will see the sign on your right just before entering Bomarzo.
Adults: €9.00; Children (4 to 8) €7.00; Under 4 Free.
Open every day from 8:00 AM to Sunset.
Need to Know
Budget about 2 hours to see the park. If you are coming on a hot day, consider early morning or late afternoon. While this is an off-the-beaten-path location, it is getting rather well known, and tourism is on the rise in this area. If you come early or late (especially on a weekday), you will practically have the park to yourself. But if you come in the middle of the day on a weekend, it is likely to get somewhat crowded, but we have never seen more than a hundred people here.
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