Villa Gregoriana in Tivoli makes for a great day trip from Rome.Not many people realise that in the 19th century, Tivoli had a visitor attraction that surpassed Hadrian’s Villa and Villa d’Este.
But when artists, poets and writers of the Romantic era visited the town during the Grand Tour, the first place they wanted to see was another garden – a garden carved out of a chasm that ran down the side of the Great Cascade of the Aniene river.
Forgotten treasureThroughout the 20th century, however, this treasure was largely forgotten. The area suffered bomb damage during the last war and was totally abandoned. In 2002, the park was taken over by the Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI), an organisation similar to the British National Trust. It was in such a bad state that it required a mammoth landscape recovery operation.FAI volunteers collected five tons of rubbish that had been dumped over the years, including washing machines and old television sets, 1,200 tons of rubble and 350 tons of fallen branches and leaves. They restored 750 old stone steps and pruned or replanted 2,300 trees. The villa was reopened to the public in 2005.
Where to find Villa GregorianaTo reach the Villa Gregoriana, you go through Tivoli, past the mediaeval fortress and along the riverside. The villa is just beyond the hydro-electric dam, on the fringe of the most interesting and picturesque part of the town, with winding mediaeval streets, archways, artisan workshops and the two celebrated Roman temples (prominently featured in Tivoli tourist brochures) crowning the rock of the ancient acropolis – one believed to be dedicated to Tibertus, the town’s mythical founder, and the other to Albunea, the Sybil Tiburtina, credited with prophesying the birth of Christ.
Mermaid's CaveThese days, paths run right down to the bottom, known as the “Valley of Hell” and traversed by a series of pools and rivulets, fed by the waterfall crashing down from above. The hauntingly beautiful “Mermaids’ Cave”, so-named by French artist Louis Ducros, channels the water into a crystal-clear rock pool and then off into further unseen depths.Sibilla restaurant, which is one of the oldest restaurants in the world and a site in its own right.Its spacious terrace beside the circular Temple of the Sybil overlooks the waterfall and is shaded by an enormous, 200-year-old wisteria. The walls are covered with marble plaques commemorating the visits of the crowned heads of Europe and other eminent guests. To mention just a few: Charles and Elizabeth, Prince and Princess of Prussia came with Princess Margherita of Savoy in 1877, the Queen of Sweden was here in 1918, the Infante of Spain dined in 1969, Princess Margaret of Britain (the present queen’s late sister) in 1965, and in 1999 Duchess Zelda Marzec, Grand Dame of the Order of Malta, celebrated her birthday here.
By Margaret Stenhouse
This article was originally published in the October 2011 edition of Wanted in Rome magazine.
Visiting Villa GregorianaParco Villa Gregoriana, Tivoli, tel. (0039) 0774332650, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visitors are advised to wear shoes with rubber soles for the tour, since the paths are uneven at a number of points, and the rocks and steps can be slippery.
March, open Tues-Sun 10.00-17.00.
April to June, open daily 10.00-18.30.
July-August, open daily 10.00-20.00.
1-15 October, open daily 10.00-18.30.
16-22 October, daily 10.00-18.00.
23-31 October, daily 10.00-16.00.
1 November-17 December, open Tues-Sun 10.00-16.00.
Last entry: an hour before the Park closes in the evening.
Open all public holidays that fall on a Monday.
How to get there
By car from Rome: Take the Tivoli or Castel Madama exits from the Roma-L'Aquila A24 motorway and follow the signs for Tivoli, Villa Gregoriana.
By train from Rome: leave from Tiburtina Station and get off at Tivoli.
By coach from Rome: leave from Ponte Mammolo or Tiburtina Station and get off at Tivoli.
Children (4-14 years): €3
Reduced ticket for students and residents in Tivoli: €2.50
Students aged up to 26: €4
Children under 3 are free.
FAI and National Trust members: free entrance
View on Map
Villa Gregoriana: Tivoli's wilderness garden
Largo Sant'Angelo, 1, 00019 Tivoli RM, Italy