Wednesday: Villa D’Este and Villa Gregoriana

Today was our last formal tour with Jose and our last ride with Lino, and we were taking a day trip out to Tivoli. The original plan had been to tour Hadrian's Villa and Villa D'Este, but Jose suggested that we might want to give Villa Gregoriana a try in place of one of the villas on the original itinerary. I think some of it was natural curiosity on his part. The park is fairly new, and he had not been there so it would be a chance for discovery for all of us. It is a nature park, filled with grottoes and waterfalls. After all the great art, beautiful museums, and castles, we were ready for a nature walk. We pounced upon the idea of Gregoriana. For once, Jose made us make the decision on which of the other two villas to skip, and we eliminated Hadrian's Villa. Our reasoning was the Hadrian's Villa was more ancient and in ruins, having been constructed by the emperor as a pleasure retreat in the second century AD. In contract, Villa D'Este is more “modern,” having been constructed in the 1500's. D'Este also has the advantage of being smaller in scope and more manageable. We were very pleased with our decision. It was a gorgeous, idyllic place.

Our day started at 8:00 when Lino and Jose arrived promptly at our doorstep. We left town the same way as when we headed out to Pompeii, and miles before the sulfur zone (at which Greg and I were falsely accused of passing gas), Lino started giggling and making comments to Jose. We all got plenty of chances to accuse each other. Jose got a lot of mileage out of his best joke. On the first day in the car, Lino had worn a suit and tie. We had told him that was not necessary, so he had on an open shirt when we went to Pompeii. Jose said, “When Lino takes off his tie, he lets go with the smell.” From high art to toot jokes, Jose can do it all. Of course, Genene loved it.

We decided to see Villa D'Este first, and we had the place all to ourselves in the first hour. It was magical. Villa d'Este was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este, who was the son of Alfonso I d'Este and Lucrezia Borgia. He was also the grandson of Pope Alexander VI. Jose delicately explained to Genene that the pope was not supposed to have a family, but sometimes the popes were “naughty.” It would have taken a person about four hours by horseback or carriage from Rome to get to the villa, comparable to modern-day Houstonians who get a place in the Hill Country outside San Antonio. It was a getaway. The cardinal wanted to create a Renaissance showplace, and he succeeded. It is a garden of dancing waters. The fountains are marvels of hydraulic engineering. Franz Liszt was a guest of the cardinal here and was inspired to write “Les Jeux d'Eaux à la Villa d'Este.”

The grounds were beautiful, with spectacular views of the valley below. Best of all, in the morning the villa provides shade, and we were actually cool. What a relief! Genene enjoyed getting wet and running around freely. Jose stopped her from time to time to tell her stories of mythology or to point out significant details, but she had a lot of free range roaming, which she thoroughly enjoyed.

A view from the Villa garden.

From one of the many terraces.


The happy family enjoying a day at the Cardinal's pleasure palace.

Beautiful fountains adorn the entire garden area. Many of them have been restored so that they operate hydraulically, but some have not been completely restored and have some electric assistance.


One of Genene's favorite fountains had a set of doors which opened promptly at 10:30 AM, revealing an organ that played automatically. Can you imagine the engineering feat it took to operate all of this?

A wall of fountains and greenery known as The Hundred Fountains.


The fountains and pools are spectacular.

Genene and Jose look for fish.


The vistas are breathtaking.

Romulus and Remus suckle at the she-wolf.


Genene got a kick out of this fountain, which Jose described as “Abundance.”

Some of the fountains depict areas of ancient Rome.

More fabulous views.


We spent all morning wandering these grounds, and it was simply fantastic. The shaded gardens and the gentle spray from the fountains kept us cool. Jose stuck his head under one of the Hundred Fountains, and Genene immediately imitated, drawing a gentle admonition from one of the groundskeepers. He told us that the water was river water, not clean. (He didn't see Genene in Naples.)

We headed over to Villa Gregoriana at lunchtime and picked up some simple sandwiches before plotting our walk. Villa Gregoriana is nature park. In 1835, Pope Gregory XVI commissioned engineers to rebuild the bed of the Aniene River, which had been damaging the city repeatedly by flooding. The ambitious project diverted the flow, saved the town, and enhanced some spectacular waterfalls. The area is filled with cliffs, grottoes, and archaeological ruins from different eras. It is a great place for a walk in the woods.

The town of Tivoli from the entrance of Villa Gregoriana.

The park trail generally runs in a horseshoe-shaped switchback down to the valley floor and up the other side. There are side trails for viewing the caves, water, and ruins. Genene loved running down the trails. I tried to warn her that what goes down in this case must come back up, but kids will be kids, and she rushed ahead with abandon.

Water flows in and out of the grottoes.

Views of the waterfalls.
Toward the end, Genene's energy flagged, but she made it out under her own power and even managed a big smile for the camera.
Jose treated us to gelato at a restaurant with a nice view.


We rode back to Rome, exhilarated from our day in the country. Because we spent much of the day in shade, we did not feel as tired as we have felt on some other days.

We left Lino at the doorstep, and he gave each of us the double-cheeked kiss that I thought only the French did. Greg was surprised but did it like a man right out on the street. Genene gave Lino a goodbye hug.

Jose has been wanting to do some sketching with Genene, but we have always been on the run. Genene enjoys art of all kinds at school, so she welcomes the chance to get to draw. I was so glad when he offered to come by our apartment in the morning, to have one last bit of time with Genene. I really did not want to say goodbye to him on the streets and am happy he is coming for a final visit in the morning. I am not sure how we will tell him how grateful we are for his kindness to us and particularly to Genene. He has brought this city to life for us all. I feel as if we have a friend in Rome now.

We had dinner at home and will probably go out later for the passeggiata, the evening stroll. I love this Roman ritual. When the sun casts its last golden glow, the people–young and old–come out for the walk. They come to see and be seen, to get supplies for the next day, to go to dinner, and all of that. Growing up in Nashville, Arkansas, we all went out to “drag Main.” It's a bit like the same thing, only the Romans do it on their feet instead of in their parents' old Chevrolet.

Excuse me while I go drag Rome.


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