The Sacro Bosco, or Monster Park garden, was built in the 1550’s by Vicino Orsini as a project to mourn the death of his wife Guilia. Orsini, a military man, worked with landscape architect Pirro Ligorio, who also designed the very different, formal Villa d’Este garden in Tivoli.
At the time, the garden fashion was for geometry, symmetry, and order. The Sacro Bosco is so different – it appears to be a complete reaction to this. The result is authentic, fresh, organic, and timeless.
This is partially driven by how the garden embraces the natural stone outcroppings as the base for monumental sculptures. Figures and buildings appear as if they are emerging from the earth or sinking into it.
Sculptor Simone Moschino is the real star, for this is primarily a sculpture garden. His work is fanciful, ironic, and full of meaning. As I walked the garden I felt the collaboration between sculptor and garden designer, particularly in how they captured a fascination with the battle of good over evil, as we can see in the photos of Hercules tearing Cacus apart. Cacus was known as the town bully, a fearful character who stole Hercules’ cattle and terrorized the land.
The Parco di Monstri was forgotten until 1949, when artist Salvador Dali and art critic Mario Praz rediscovered it. The short film below shows Dali exploring the garden. In 1950, Giovanni Bettini purchased and restored the garden. His family continues to keep it open to the public.
If you want to plan a trip to see Sacro Bosco, this place is just an hour’s drive from Rome, and about 15 minutes outside of the town of Bomarzo. Just remember that it is locally referred to as Parco di Mostri (the Monster Park).