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Sacro Bosco. Italy

“Sacro Bosco” or “Park of the Monsters” (Parco dei Mostri di Bomarzo) is one of the twenty most bizarre gardens in the world according to the British publication “The Telegraph”. This unusual place is situated in the small town of Bomarzo, which is only an hour’s drive from Rome. “Sacro Bosco” created in Mannerist style is considered to be an example of the decline of the Renaissance.

Construction of the park was started in 1548 by the architect Pirro Ligorio, and finished in 1580. The unique design of the sculptures is attributed to Simone Moschino. Initially, it was conceived as a conventional park with trees, alleys and fountains. Italian Duke Pier Francesco Orsini (1523–1585), wanted to devote the Garden of Bomarzo to his wife Giulia Farnese. But in 1546, Giulia perishes from an accident in an unfinished castle, and this tragic event changes his plans. Thus, a lovely garden becomes a kingdom of the dead, with a variety of monstrous monuments associated with death and the afterlife. Duke Orsini decided to perpetuate the memory of his wife in the alleys dotted with strange figures of mythological creatures.

The name “Sacro Bosco” can be translated from the Italian as a sacred forest. It is also known as a wonderful forest that is filled with wonderful things. Orsini called it the “Garden of wonders.” Here you can see a lot of mythological sculptures and fantastic structures, carved out of the rocks. Awareness of these sculptures requires not only erudition, but also the knowledge of classical mythology and literature.

The colossal five-meter sculpture will delight you. It depicts the hero of Ariosto’s poem “Orlando Furioso,” which breaks the inverted upside down enemy into two. Striking sculptures are found here at every step: the head of Proteus; Clash of the Titans; the elephant, eating humans (Hannibal’s elephant catching a Roman legionary); dogs, attacking the monster; Sirens and Aphrodite; giant fruit, cones and basins. A giant stone tortoise with a towering winged female figure symbolizes the emblem of fortune. Thus, it combines the image of fleeting fame and variable fortune – rapidity of flight with a sluggishness of turtle. All this conjures up the famous Latin saying: «Festina lente», famous call: «Hasten slowly».

What the afterlife world can do without the gates of hell. Here, it is represented by an enormous head of the queen of netherworld – Orcus mouth. Around the mouth, you will see the inscription «Abandon meditation ye who enter here», resembling the description of hell in “The Divine Comedy” by Dante. This place is perfect to escape the summer heat: here even at forty degrees above zero tourists feel comfortable. The tongue inside the head is used as a table, and teeth – chairs. But be careful being in this grotto – the words pronounced here are echoed around the garden and resemble the terrible moans of sinners.

At the highest point of the park, at the open space, there is a temple dedicated to Giulia Farnese (The Temple of Eternity). This structure strongly differs from the surrounding constructions. It pleases with its laconism, harmony and beauty, especially after seeing the huge statues with fierce or sad faces. Spectacular views of the surrounding area are opened here.

The heirs of Orsini had no money and opportunities to maintain the park in good condition, and gradually the park, overgrown with moss, gained an abandoned look. Since then, it has changed several owners and become covered with legends of evil spirits. The park still holds many secrets that will forever remain unsolved for us.

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