Villa d’Este in Tivoli, photo and description

Villa d’Este in Tivoli.

Just 24 km from Rome, in the town of Tivoli is one of the greatest creations of Italian architecture. The Villa d’Este in Tivoli is famous for its fountains, shady alleys, whimsical grottoes, unique hydraulic and musical structures and is an example of Baroque garden architecture.

Construction history

Villa d'Este in Tivoli

This ensemble was built by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este. Ippolito was the son of Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Madena and Ferara, and Lucrezia Borgia. In the mid-16th century he was appointed governor of Tivoli. This appointment was to brighten up a little his unsuccessful attempt to take the papal seat. The convent of Santa Maria Maggiore became the residence of the new governor. But the dull gray monastery building did not meet the needs of the new governor, who was considered a high connoisseur of art. He decided to build a palace on the site and to build gardens along the hills in the vicinity.

The project of the residence was designed by Pirro Ligorio, an antiquarian from Naples, and construction began in 1560. In addition to Ligorio, the cardinal had architects and builders led by Alberto Galvani to work on the villa. Construction lasted more than 10 years. First the builders took care of water supply to the villa: they built an aqueduct and dug underground tunnels that brought water from the river Aniene to the building site. Only after that did they begin to arrange the park and install fountains.

The villa was inaugurated in September 1572, but Ippolito died a few months later. A decade later the villa was taken over by the Holy College of Cardinals and gradually fell into disrepair. It was only at the very end of the century, at the insistence of one of the heirs of its first owner, Alessandro d’Este, that the estate was given to the d’Este family. He and his successors managed to reconstruct the water system, repaired some of the fountains and built several new ones.

Architectures and interiors

Villa d'Este in Tivoli

The villa is a unified ensemble, consisting of a magnificent palace and a picturesque garden, which occupies almost 4 hectares. The residence was intended for meetings with cultural figures – musicians, poets and artists. All interiors of the palace were created with this in mind and were meant to emphasize the high status of this place as a cultural and artistic space.

In the private apartments of Cardinal Ippolito, traditional Renaissance frescoes and moldings on the walls have been preserved to this day. The rooms were also decorated with antique statues, many of which, unfortunately, have been lost, and Flemish tapestries were hung on the walls. The whole concept of the interior decoration was developed at the very beginning of construction by the best architects and artists of the time.

Villa d'Este in Tivoli

During the Renaissance, any artistic object had to carry some kind of unified humanistic thought. Landscape architecture was also subject to these requirements. Therefore, the concept of the garden in Tivoli expressed several philosophical and political ideas that were in harmony with the time and the thoughts of the estate’s owners. The main entrance to the garden is a wide open terrace with stairways on both sides. There are fountains in the center of the terrace and it ends with a fanciful grotto. The overhanging tiers of the terrace are reminiscent of one of the wonders of the world, the Gardens of Semiramis.

In the garden itself there are many more references to ancient myths and legends. The statue of Hercules, from whom, according to legend, d’Este family originated, is the main figure of the idea. Two paths depart from it, one leading to vice and the other to the knowledge of truth and goodness. A similar choice is to be made before the image of Venus – whether to choose earthly love or eternal, heavenly love. In his garden Ippolito wished to arrange a small replica of the Eternal City – here you can see the most famous monuments of Rome.

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Fountains, Villa d'Este in Tivoli

The main attraction of the villa, despite the magnificent decoration of the palace and the collection of works of arts and crafts displayed there, are its fountains. They not only served the function of water supply and irrigation of the beautiful garden, but also became its best decoration. It was not by chance that contemporaries called the garden of the Villa d’Este the Theater of Water.

Numerous cascades, ponds, canals and waterfalls keep you cool and relaxed on a hot summer day. Today, there are more than five hundred fountains in the garden. All of them were designed and built at different periods of the villa’s history, but the placement of each fountain in the park is carefully thought out and carries not only aesthetic and hydrological functions, but also a deep philosophical meaning.

Neptune Fountain

Neptune Fountain, Villa d'Este in Tivoli

One of the most recent fountains installed in the garden was built in 1927, but it blends very organically into the overall composition. It is located right in the center of the park. The majestic statue of the lord of the sea can be seen through the waterfall, which falls on him from the fountain “Organ”. In front of the Neptune fountain are rectangular ponds with fish.

Fountain del Bicchierone.

Fountain del Bicchierone, Villa d'Este in Tivoli

Was built by the famous Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the XVII century, and therefore bears the second name “Bernini Cup”. It resembles a giant shot glass mounted on a large shell. Bernini personally supervised the process of its construction, and he regulated the power of water supply and height of the jets of the fountain, so that they do not block the view of the neighboring fountain.

The Rometta Fountain

Rometta Fountain, Villa d'Este in Tivoli

One of the realizations of the Cardinal’s idea to reproduce in his garden all Roman sites in miniature. The fountain is called “Little Rome”. At the very center is a sculpture of Roma the Victorious, and beyond that is a statue of a she-wolf nursing Remus and Romulus. The entire composition is made with the traditional features of Roman architecture of the time: columns, arches, obelisks.

Alley of the Hundred Fountains

Alley of the Hundred Fountains, Villa d'Este in Tivoli

This is perhaps the most famous attraction of the villa. The alley connects the two fountains, Tivoli and Rometta (“Little Rome”). Along the entire alley, through the dense greenery jets of more than 100 fountains. According to the plans of the architects, each fountain had to correspond to its own relief echoing the themes of the Metamorphoses by Ovid. The alternation of high cascading structures and small fan structures creates an extraordinary effect.

The fountain of dragons

Dragon Fountain, Villa d'Este in Tivoli

It is a composition of four dragons sitting in a circle, their backs to each other, with streams of water pouring down from their mouths. According to Ligorio, the fountain was dedicated to the struggle between good and evil, so in the niches were going to install the figures of Hercules and Mars with gladiators. To emphasize the drama of the idea, at the time of the Cardinal the fountain also made loud noises imitating cannon volleys or fireworks. Because of Hippolito’s death, the fountain remained unfinished; it was not completed until centuries later. The niches on the sides were left empty and a statue of Jupiter was erected in the center. Then a single, forty-headed dragon was replaced by four dragons, looking in different directions.

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The Fountain of the Organ

The Organ Fountain, Villa d'Este in Tivoli

Copies are now installed almost all over Europe. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that thanks to a special hydraulic design the water, passing through special pipes, gushing out, produces melodious sounds. The fountain was so amazed his contemporaries that Pope Gregory XII, who was present at the opening of the villa, looked inside to see if there was a real organ. In 2003, the fountain was reconstructed, the musical mechanism was repaired, and now every two hours visitors can hear four small Renaissance compositions.

Opening times and ticket prices

Villa d'Este in Tivoli

Open to the public every day except Mondays from 8:30 to 7:45 pm. Visiting hours depend on the season: from May to August the garden is open until 19:30, in winter and late autumn it is open until 16:45 or 17:15. Sometimes the museum is also open on Mondays. It is best to check the opening times on the official website before visiting the villa. On holidays: December 25, January 1 and May 1 the villa is not open. From May to November a full ticket costs 13 euros, at other times – 10 euros. Children up to 17 years old may visit the villa free of charge.


Villa d'Este in Tivoli

You can see the villa on your own. But much more experience you will have after a guided individual excursion. You can choose one of the excursions around Rome, including a visit to Tivoli.

For example, the tour “Masterpieces of Tivoli: Villa d’Este and Villa Hadrian” is an opportunity to delve deeper into Roman and Renaissance history. A professional guide, a resident of Rome, will lead you through the shady streets of the ancient city and tell you the most interesting facts about its history. You will learn why the Villa Cardinal d’Este became a paragon of garden art and a prototype of the Versailles garden.

The Villa d’Este guided tours “The enchanting Tivoli and the luxurious Villa d’Este” and “Tivoli – City of Emperors” are dedicated to the Villa d’Este. You will see the magnificent furnishings of the Cardinal’s palace, examine the ancient frescos and the preserved stucco, and learn about the fate of the Cardinal himself, who belonged to the famous Italian family.

Go down the marble steps to the garden, where among the most ancient cypresses and olive trees beat fountains, learn the history of their creation and what the philosophical meaning lies in each of them, listen to the sound of the fountain “Organ”. Tours are conducted both individually and in groups of up to 6 people. Children can participate in all of them. Tickets for the Villa are not included in the tour price and must be purchased locally.

Where is it located and how to get there

Villa d'Este in Tivoli

The complex is located in the historic center of Tivoli in Piazza Trento. From Rome you can reach the villa by train or bus. The bus leaves from the metro station Ponte Mammolo. Ticket to Tivoli costs 2.2 euros. It is better to buy a ticket for the return trip. It is more convenient to get off at the stop “Piazza Garibaldi”. Cross the square diagonally, and then you will find the way to the complex by numerous signs. Buses leave Rome from 6 am to 11 pm and Tivoli to Rome from 4:30 to 00 am. The trip takes about 50 minutes.

If you decide to get to Tivoli by train, it is worth studying the schedule in advance, because the trains run about once an hour. They leave from Termini Station or Tiburtina Station. The ticket costs 2.6 euros. Trentitalia trains go to Tivoli, direction Rome – Pescara. From the train station to the villa is about a little over one km.

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In addition to traditional public transport, you can order a transfer to Tivoli. The advantages are obvious: individual approach and choice of departure time, comfort, travel time saving. You can pick up a car for one or two travelers, for a group of tourists or a large family. If you are booking a car, remember to do it in advance, at least one day before the planned excursion.

Villa d’Este in Tivoli

Villa d'Este

Villa d’Este is very popular among tourists visiting the Eternal City. It is located on the outskirts of Tivoli, 25 km from Rome and it is neighbor to the no less attractive attractions of the Lazio region: the Villa Gregoriana and the ancient Roman Villa Hadrian.

The garden of Villa d’Este is famous for its numerous fountains, ornamental pools, grottoes and sculptural statues. Its decoration illustrates the refined forms of the Renaissance and the innovative landscape design and engineering ingenuity of the 16th century have contributed to the development of a new direction of landscape architecture. The image of the villa is sung in poetry, reflected in music and depicted in drawings and paintings.

View of the center avenue

Villa d’Este in Tivoli: history and architecture

Peterhof would probably not look like this today if the Villa d’Este had not been built near Tivoli in the 16th century. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the legendary villa was the brainchild of Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este of Ferrara (1509-72). When he became governor of Tivoli in 1550, he decided to create a beautiful park and palace corresponding to his status, which over time became a meeting place for the most important people of the time.

The complex was designed by the famous architect of the time, Pirro Ligorio (1500-83) and the legendary Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) put his touch on the shape of the villa in the 17th century. In the 18th century, before it was passed to the Habsburgs, it was neglected, but in the following century the famous imperial family gave it more attention than its predecessors. By the way, the last owner was the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 started World War I. Today the villa and park are owned by the state and are a popular tourist attraction. In the 1920s and after World War II, when the site was severely damaged during the 1944 bombing, extensive renovations were carried out here.

Mysterious grotto

Architecture and interiors of the palace

Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, son of Lucrezia Borgia and grandson of the scandalously famous Pope Alexander VI Borgia, a lover of luxury and patron of the arts, upon accepting the governorship of Tivoli was extremely surprised by the squalor of the residence offered him. He was given an old monastery which he soon decided to convert into a villa with a sumptuous garden. For this purpose an additional plot of land had to be bought.

The building itself was to be in keeping with the grandiose cardinal’s palace that was under construction in Rome for official receptions, and the country estate was to serve for pleasures, pleasant meetings and thoughtful conversations. The fruitful work that began in 1560 transformed the Villa d’Este into a masterpiece of Italian park art.

The palace is a complex structure in plan with uniform facades, projecting side pavilions, a two-level loggia with staircases and a courtyard surrounded by galleries. Along the facade, from the triumphal arch-like Grand Loggia to the dormant Fountain of Europe, stretches the Vialone, a 200-meter terrace. On hot days the cardinal’s court used it as an escape from the heat, and in the evenings it was used for entertainment.

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Oval Fountain

Painters Livio Agresti, Girolamo Muziano and Federico Zucarri, as well as famous sculptors, mosaic artists and ceramics masters participated in the decoration of the palace. Walls and ceilings were richly decorated with frescoes, moldings and tapestries. The interiors were enriched with statues, most of which were later lost.

Each of the palace halls had its own name – Heracles, Glory, Nobility, Venus, the Hunt, Noah, Moses, etc. Here, in varying degrees of preservation, one can see the 16th-17th century thematic and mythological paintings, stucco decorations, coffered ceilings, coats of arms, ornaments, allegories, etc. The Cardinal’s private apartments include a library, a bedroom, a chapel and a gallery.

Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este attended the inauguration of the villa in September 1572, when the decoration work was nearly completed. But he was never able to fully enjoy his brainchild as he died in December of the same year.

The park descends a slope at the back of the palace. The area is divided into several sections by a long longitudinal axis and several transverse axes. The garden is striking with the abundance of statues and masks, grottoes and exteriors, the rapid “falling” terraces and the riot of greenery. It is filled with numerous waterfalls, canals, cascades and fountains created by experienced 16th-century hydraulic engineers, including the talented engineer Tommaso Chirucchi. The systems have no pumps, the water overflows naturally due to the created slopes and ledges, as well as the law of communicating vessels.

The grotto of Diana, decorated with stone mosaics, bas-reliefs and enamel paintings, as well as the grottoes of Pomona, Sibylle, Hercules, the patron of the D’Este family (the statue was sent to the Vatican museums), etc., attract tourists’ attention. The cypress rotunda, mentioned by Gabriele d’Annunzio in his poems, and the Pandora Loggia with nymphaeum, where Franz Liszt liked to rest, dedicated three musical compositions to the Villa d’Este.

In the garden planted 30 thousand seasonal and 15 thousand perennials, 150 century-old trees. The area of landscaped walkways is 9 thousand square meters.

Alley of 100 fountains

Fountains of Villa d’Este

Tourists are primarily attracted by the magnificent fountains of the park, which to this day remain masterpieces of artistic and engineering thought. To supply water, canals and underground tunnels about 600 m long were laid from the river Agnéné. The fountains are connected by pipes with a total length of over 200 m.

There are several dozen fountains in the garden, the most notable of which are:

  • The Organ – a unique mechanism allows the flow of water to reproduce melodies. Built by Luc Leclerc and Claude Venard between 1568 and 1611, designed by Pirro Ligorio, it was completed by Lorenzo Bernini. The massive façade is decorated with statues, sculptural compositions, bas-reliefs, and niches. The organ was restored several times, was considered almost lost, but in 2003 it resounded again;
  • Oval – a huge semi-circular basin at the back is framed by the grotto of Venus. Originally conceived by Pirro Ligorio as a kind of water theater against the backdrop of artificial mountains;

Cascade and stepped ramp

  • The Hundred Fountains – located between the previous two water features. The years of construction are 1566-77. Nearly 300 nozzles and tubes are installed in rows along three canals. Outlets are framed by masks with different “muzzles”. Most of the ornaments are hidden by lush thickets;
  • The Rometta is a unique ensemble associated with ancient Rome in miniature. Built in 1567-70 by Pirro Ligorio, partially ruined. Here are the symbols of the Eternal City – the she-wolf with her twins, the goddess Roma, the island of Tiburtina in the form of a boat with an obelisk. Previously there were: 7 hills, ancient buildings of Rome and sculptures;
  • Neptune, built in the 1930s on the site of a ruined and dried up cascade built by Bernini in the XVII century, completed by ponds;
  • Diana of Ephesus (or Mother Nature) – formerly a figure in the ensemble of the Fountain of the Organ. Water flows out of the deity’s multiple breasts.
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In the park there are also fountains of Dragons, Owl with singing birds, Swans, Proserpine, Bicchierone, Pegasus, etc.

Facade of the Organa Fountain

In the courtyard of the palace there is the fountain of Venus, made in 1568-69. Raffaello Sangalo. The figure of the sleeping goddess, who adorns the fountain, dates from the fourth and fifth centuries. It is the only palace fountain preserved in its original form.


Entrance to Villa d’Este costs 12 euros. In the case of temporary exhibitions on the grounds, the amount increases by 2-5 euros, depending on the exhibit.

A preferential ticket for 2 euros is available to EU citizens 18-25 years old. Under 18 years old – admission is free. It is necessary to present a proof of identity.


Free visiting days:

  • October to March inclusive – first Sunday of the month;
  • Museum Week – from 2019 is set by the Italian Ministry of Culture at the beginning of the year;
  • May through December – first Monday of the month.

Non-commercial photography and videography are allowed on the grounds – no flash, no direct contact with architectural and natural objects, and no tripods. Professionals, including wedding photographers, must obtain a permit and pay the appropriate fee.

Hours of Operation

Villa d’Este can be visited daily from 8:30 a.m. to 7:45 p.m., Monday afternoons from 2 p.m. Ticket booths close one hour earlier.

The time of exit from the garden depends on the time of year (the restriction is due to the time of dusk):

  • January, November, December – 4:45 p.m;
  • February – 5:15 p.m;
  • March – 6:00 p.m. (summer time – 7:00 p.m.);
  • April – 7:15 p.m;
  • May-August – 7:30 p.m;
  • September – 7:00 p.m;
  • October – 6:15 p.m. (winter time – 5:15 p.m.).

Access to the monastery, the palace and the Vialone is possible until 19:45.

Diana of Ephesus Fountain

The Villa is closed on January 1 and December 25.

The music of the Organ Fountain can be heard every two hours daily, starting at 10:30. On Friday and Saturday evening sightseeing visits, the “water” melody is played at 9:00 and 10:00 p.m.

How to get to Villa d’Este

In order to cover all three of Tivoli’s famous attractions and get to know the city a little bit, a full day should be set aside for the trip. It is best to rent a car or the journey can be tiresome. Those who will travel by public transport should know that the Gregorian Villa is a 10-minute walk from Villa d’Este, and the Villa Adriana will have to take a local bus, as the distance is about 4.5 km.

The entrance to Villa d’Este is from Piazza Trento. It is located to the right of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

Entrance to the right of the basilica

With few exceptions, tourists start their journey from Rome.

By Car

Leave the Eternal City in an easterly direction along the SR5 highway.

by train

Regional trains leave for Tivoli from the Tiburtina train station on schedule.

By bus

From Ponte Mammolo metro station (line B) in the direction of Tivoli, Cotral buses are available.

For more information on the trip from Rome to Tivoli, see the material on our website.

In Rome you can use mobile cab apps like Uber, Chiama Taxi, AppTaxi, inTaxi, it Taxi, eTaxi etc.

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