Nowadays we can escape the rigours of a chilly winter by booking a last minute flight
to a tropical holiday resort where the next day we are likely to catch a cold due to the excess of air conditioning. In the past, things were not so easy
and travellers from northern Europe had to endure a long and tiring and sometimes dangerous journey to reach la Terra dei Limoni, Italy, the Land of Lemons. After passing the Alps and descending the River Adige valley to eventually reach Verona, J. W. Goethe wrote on September 11, 1786:
Everything flourishes here in vigour and health, the sun is bright and hot, and one can believe again in a God. ... when, immediately after sunset, the loud shrill of crickets is heard, I feel at home in the world, neither a stranger nor an exile. I enjoy everything as if I had been born and bred here and
had just returned from a whaling expedition to Greenland.
Italian Journey - translation by W. H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer - Collins.
In Rome Goethe and many other travellers found a rest from the labours of visiting ruins and churches, by spending a sunny day strolling through the avenues of Villa Borghese.
Looking for the monument to your preferred writer (1): (left to right) Gogol, Lord Byron and Puskin
In 1903 German Emperor William II commissioned a monument to commemorate the Roman sojourn of Goethe and this was placed in Villa Borghese; his example was followed by France with a monument to Victor Hugo (you can see them in the main page covering the Villa). Other governments followed and today by walking there you can meet many writers: Puskin, in particular seems to enjoy the Roman sunshine and rightly so, as he was used to the never-ending Russian winter nights. Unlike Gogol and Byron he never visited Italy, but he dreamt of it: Where Italy’s gold nights descend, I’ll breathe free (Eugene Onegin - Book I - 49). The statue of Byron is a copy of that in Cambridge's Trinity College by Bertel Thorvaldsen.
Francisco de Paula Santander (1792-1840) was a political and military leader during the independence war of the United Provinces of New Granada from Spain. In 1832 he was elected President of the Republic of New Granada, from which present day Colombia originates. In 1960 on the 150th anniversary of the declaration of independence a statue was erected to him at Villa Borghese. In 1934 an equestrian statue not far from this site celebrated Simon Bolivar, initially a friend/ally and later on an enemy/rival of Santander.
Enjoying the babble of Fonte Gaia, a modern fountain by Giuseppe Nicolini
It is not unusual to see tourists in Rome walking around with plastic bottles of water: this is nonsense because Rome is full of fountains, not only monumental ones, but also very practical cast iron fountains called by the Romans nasoni (big noses) because the water flows down from a curved tube. The fountains of Villa Borghese were designed not only to appeal to the eye, but also to the ear, as the babble of water was thought to have soothing effects on the soul of those who heard it. Fonte Gaia (Happy Fountain) is a 1928 addition to the many fountains one comes across in the villa.
Cardinal Scipione Caffarelli Borghese, the first landlord of the Villa, passed away in 1633: he granted free access to the public to a vast section of his gardens and so did his heirs; Villa Borghese became known also as Villa del Popolo Romano. In 1901 this tradition helped the acquisition of the whole Villa by the Italian Government: it was renamed Villa Umberto I after the King of Italy who had been killed in 1900 by an anarchist, but the new name did not replace the old one and even the monument erected to the King in 1925 is almost hidden by the pines as if it did not want to intrude into the historical design of the park.
Visiting the Zoological Garden (Bioparco di Roma)
In 1911, for the 50th anniversary of the Kingdom of Italy, a zoological garden was inaugurated in an area between the historical part of the villa and Parioli, a new and very wealthy development to its north. In recent years facilities were greatly improved to increase the space available to the animals and replace cages with other barriers.
Visiting the adjoining Museo Civico di Zoologia
A separate entrance gives access to a natural history museum which houses skeletons of animals and an incredible number of stuffed birds. Two small dioramas show (above) which animals lived in the environs of Rome before the last ice age (ca 100,000 years ago) and (below) after its end (ca 10,000 years ago).
Playing with a dog at Piazza di Siena
Valletta dei cani (Dog valley) is a hidden part of Villa Borghese away from its main monuments where dogs can play without being kept on a leash, but occasionally toy dogs are allowed to freely explore more important locations under the vigilant eye of their masters.
Visiting a small museum; (left) Museo Carlo Bilotti; (right) Hector and Andromache by Giorgio de Chirico
Villa Borghese is mainly known for Museo e Galleria Borghese, the museum in the Casino, but two other small museums are housed in ancillary buildings: a) Museo Pietro Canonica, which is dedicated to this Italian sculptor (1869-1959) who lived at la Fortezzuola, a building resembling a castle; b) Museo Carlo Bilotti, a collector of modern art who at his death in 2006 donated works by Giorgio De Chirico, Andy Warhol, Gino Severini, Giacomo Manzù and Larry Rivers. The collection is housed in l'Aranciera (the Orangery), a XIXth century building which replaced the casino of a property bought by the Borghese to enlarge their villa and which was destroyed in 1849 during the Defence of the Roman Republic.
Rowing in the pond of Tempio di Esculapio
Between 1766 and 1793 Prince Marcantonio IV Borghese brought about a large restyling of the gardens to the south of the Casino introducing elements of English gardening. In particular the pond where one can go rowing is borrowed from English models.
(left) Learning to roller-blade in Viale delle Magnolie; (right) bust of Pompey
In 1908 Villa Borghese was linked to the Pincio Gardens by a bridge and a long avenue flanked by magnolias. Because the Pincio was decorated with busts of famous Italians some busts were added in the new avenue to smooth the transition between the two gardens. The busts constitute a nightmare for the maintenance of the park as their noses are a prime target of vandals.
Going to the Globe Theatre of Villa Borghese
A recent addition to Villa Borghese is a replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.
Taking a ride on a playground train
Visitors with children may choose to use a playground train which calls at the main sites of the villa, including a Zoological Garden which was inaugurated in 1911. Alternatively tricycles can be rented near the entrance from Porta Pinciana.
A short-lived addition to the facilities of the Villa was a balloon, showing the decoration of the first balloons used by the Montgolfier brothers in 1783. A safety cable ensured the balloon did not move from its mooring site. This facility was discontinued in 2009.
Palazzo del Quirinale
The view from the balloon allowed also the discovery of monuments which are usually hidden by high walls, such as the gardens of Palazzo del Quirinale or the surviving Casino del Monte of lost Villa Ludovisi.
Discovering other fountains (Fontana di Esculapio)
Other Days of Peace pages:
At the Flea Market
At the Beach
Voicing Your Views ..... and feeling better
Christmas in Rome
Celebrating the Foundation of Rome
A visit to Roseto di Roma
Finding Solace at the Protestant Cemetery
Running the Marathon
Watching the Parade
The procession of La Madonna de Noantri
Attending Winter Ceremonies
Rome's Sleepless Night
Attending 2007 July Events
Jogging at Valle delle Camene
Sailing on the River to see the Bridges of Roma
An October Outing to Marino
A Special Spring Weekend
Embassy-hunting in Parioli
Attending a Funeral ...and enjoying it!
Celebrating Eritrean Michaelmas in Rome
Visiting Rome at Dawn
Visiting Rome in the Moonlight
Visiting Rome on a Hop-on-Hop-off Bus
Visiting Multi-ethnic Rome
Playing in the Snow at the Janiculum
Watching the Pride Parade
Reading Memoirs of Hadrian at Villa Adriana
Visiting the Movie Sets at Cinecittà
Looking up at the Ceilings of the Vatican Palaces
Spending the Last Roman Day at St. John Lateran's Cloister
Reading Seneca at the Baths
Reading Ovid at St. Peter's
Walking the Dog at Valle della Caffarella
Keeping up with new discoveries at Museo Ninfeo