The Tivoli day trip was followed by another day trip the following Saturday, this time to Caprarola, Bagnaia, and Bomarzo with Prof. Jeffrey Blanchard. In Caprarola, the main objective was to see Palazzo Farnese; in Bagnaia, Villa Lante; and in Bomarzo the Monster Park. They are all sites that are part of Jeffrey’s history class, so it was great to be able to learn first-hand.
Perhaps because the studio review date was looming so close by (it was to be the Monday right after the weekend), there was a slight negative vibe among us all on the bus ride there. The weather wasn’t helping either. The storm that flooded many parts of Italy and wreaked havoc on the trees had just passed, but grey clouds still lingered on. After a slight hike up to the top of the Caprarola, we reached Palazzo Farnese, proudly and powerfully towering over the small town. I got a tramezzino at a café at the base of the palace at a very reasonable price of 2 euros. Headsets on, the 35 or so of us that showed up marched up the winding stairs that lead to the main entrance.
Inside, we were greeted with a circular courtyard which we got special permission to go in (always feels nice when we get special access to prohibited areas, feeling privileged as other visitors look to us confusingly). The slippery mossy ground spoke to why the area was prohibited.
Rooms were arranged in a pentagonal form around the central courtyard, and the shape of the pentagon created interesting niches where there were windows puncturing the thick masonry wall. These niches were perfect places to sit and look out into the scenery, and slowly the gloomy clouds started to go away. Our spirits were also slowly uplifted as we made our way through this gorgeous palace.
The highlight for me was the room with the huge windows that opened up to the sky (designed as a loggia). The moment we walked in, all we could see was the sky, so the room looked like it was high up in the clouds.
We also got to access the basement, where I feared a phantom may reside. It was dark and damp and not well lit. There were two large kitchens that informed us of the number of residents that lived in the palace. It was interesting how the horse carriages would have come in through the big door at the bottom of the palace and unloaded the passenger inside the building. There even was a roundabout in the basement for the carriage.
This basement could be reached through a spiral staircase, which was covered in frescoes, and the architect Vignola looked to Bramante’s spiral staircase in the Vatican (which we also visited with Jeffrey earlier in the semester). Unlike Bramante decided to just use one order to prevent two orders from being side by side. Unfortunately because of the storm, the gardens were closed off.
Afterwards, 35 hungry college students followed Jeffrey into a trattoria in Bagnaia that served us two kinds of pasta. Bagnaia is home to Villa Lante, also by Vignola, and although not as big as Villa d’Este there were plenty of fun water fountains as well. Our favorite probably was the long one that lead to the summer dining table. Because it went downstream, some students created a paper boat and floated it down for fun.
The fountain towards the back of the villa was covered in so much moss that it looked like a giant matcha pond. There were also trees that were hollowed out so naturally we tried occupying them, which lead to this photo.
Luckily the weather was holding up until then. It started sprinkling a little as we got off the bus at our next stop, Bomarzo. A friend said about Bomarzo that she felt “too old for the monster park”. I disagree; I don’t think you can ever be too old for enjoying the whimsical statues and buildings of the garden. Although all the other visitors seemed to be families with small children..
There was a little pavilion that leaned a few degrees off its perpendicular axis, like a post-modern building. It was a strange experience standing on the sloped floor plate of the structure, like the Tower of Pisa. The second floor lead to an elevated part of the garden with a monster head that had a room inside it’s mouth which I was too scared to enter, as well as elephant sculptures that looked almost Thai. I couldn’t believe all this was made by a prince in the 16th century because it was seemed surreal and almost psychedelic.
As the sun started to lower, we made our way back to the bus then to Rome, where most of us went straight to studio to work on our Monday studio review materials. We were motivated by the thought that in just two days, we would be heading to our week-long field trip in Northern Italy.