Rome is, of course, one of the world’s most culturally and architecturally rich cities but as surprising as it may sound, in between the marble masterpieces and the infinite urban piazzas, it is more than possible to find an oasis of green. Ranging from the gardens of Rome’s aristocratic residences to rustic sites of Ancient Rome, the Eternal City has a lot more greenery to offer than one might expect.
Easily the most celebrated of Rome’s parks and gardens, Villa Borghese is the third largest public park in Rome and was once the estate of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew to Pope Paul V and patron of Baroque sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Far from your average back yard, Villa Borghese boasts an 80-hectare leafy retreat bursting with some of Rome’s great treasures.
Galleria Borghese is the small but impressively stocked museum of the works accrued by the Cardinal, who was a keen art collector. In this Baroque villa on the eastern side of the park, you will find Bernini’s remarkable sculpturing prowess in triumphs such as Il Ratto di Proserpina and Apollo e Dafne as well as some Caravaggio gems including Davide con la testa di Golia and San Girolamo.
Following in the art-loving footsteps of the Villa’s original owner, La Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea has the largest collection of Italian art from the 19th and 20th centuries, not to mention a multitude of works by greats such as Monet, Klimt and Van Gogh.
For family fun check out Villa Borghese’s Bioparco Zoo where children can feed the farm animals or catch the little train for a tour. Moreover, if a train isn’t your preferred means of transport, why not row, row, row your boat in the little lake surrounding the pocket-sized Temple of Aesculapius.
Lastly, don’t miss the spectacular views of the city from the Pincio Terrace that can be accessed from Piazza del Popolo. A great spot to soak in the sunshine and sip on a drink whilst watching the bustling streets below.
Parco degli Acquedotti
Parco degli Acquedotti
Following Via Appia or the Appian Way, one of Ancient Rome’s earliest and most important roads, you never tire of the colossal Roman ruins that remain there today. Parco degli Acquedotti, a portion of the extensive Appian Way Regional Park, takes its name from the ruins of the ancient aqueducts found here. 8km from the centro storico, here the rustic character persists, untouched by modern development. The unmistakable arches of Acqua Claudia are probably the park’s most recognizable site and have often been used as a filming location, notably for Fellini’s 1960 La Dolce Vita. Today it’s a popular spot for jogging and bike rental and a great opportunity to take a step back in time.
Taking things a little further afield, the villa gardens in the small town and commune of Tivoli is a must see and perfect day trip out of the city. About 30km away from central Rome, lie the Italian Renaissance gardens of UNESCO World Heritage site Villa D’Este. The villa itself is indeed a treasure trove of frescoed walls and ceilings, but its extravagant gardens of luscious greenery and some 500 elaborate fountains really steal the show. The spectacular Fountain of Neptune that sends up huge jets of water into the air presides over the 3 large fishponds, all surrounded by beautifully kept lawns. Tivoli also offers Villa Gregoriana, the woodland park commissioned by Pope Gregory XVI in 1835 and the ancient Villa Adriana, which was the retirement retreat for Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD.
A park with a view, Parco Savello or Giardini degli Aranci (Orange Garden) as its known by the locals, is a modern urban park on the Aventine Hill and was designed by Raffaele De Vico in 1932. Bursting with zesty orange trees (hence the name), this citrus themed garden is most celebrated for its fantastic city panorama to match the likes of the Gianicolo and Pincio terraces.
Villa Doria Pamphili
Villa Doria Pamphili
This 17th-century villa is now home to Rome’s largest landscaped public park and is truly a feast for the eyes. Situated in the Monteverde neighborhood, it began as the residence for the Pamphilis, a deeply influential papal family during the 16th and 17th centuries. When the line of Pamphili was extinguished in the 18th century, the villa was passed to Prince Giovanni Andrea IV Doria (married to Anna Pamphili) therefore explaining the villa’s dual naming. Whilst the villa itself is out of bounds, the gardens offer open space and peace and quiet with its large open lawns, lemon trees, and water grotto. What’s more, this can all be enjoyed with the accompaniment of the sumptuous picnics provided by the Vivi Bistrot restaurant. Villa Doria Pamphili often goes unnoticed by tourists making it an authentic and peaceful secret escape.
Villa Ada wins the silver medal being Rome’s second largest park but perhaps takes gold for its annual summer live music festival, Roma Incontra il Mondo, which began in 1994 and hosts a line up of Italian and international artists in an array of musical and theatrical performances. It was originally the property of the Italian Royal House of Savoy until it came under the control of the Swiss Count Tellfner who named it Ada after his wife. The park is made up of a private section controlled by the Egyptian Embassy and a much larger public area run by the Council of Rome. There’s plenty to keep you amused in this free park, including canoeing, cycling and horse riding, as well as a large artificial lake and swimming pool.
For a touch of Roman romance, what could be better than Rome’s very own rose garden Roseto Comunale? Located on the Aventine Hill, the garden was opened in 1931 by American Countess Mary Gayley Senni who started it off with 300 plants. It now boasts over 1000 different rose varieties. However, you’ll have to catch it while you can, as it’s only open for a short window of the spring months when its roses are in their full and glorious bloom.
What used to be a vineyard came under the ownership of the Mattei family in 1553 but it wasn’t until 1580 that Ciriaco Mattei had it converted into a villa by architect and student of Michelangelo, Giacomo Del Duco. Ciriaco was well known as an avid art collector and his luscious green gardens acted as his showroom for his impressive collection, some of which are still there today. For example, the obelisk presented to the Mattei in 1582, became the centerpiece to the villa’s theatre in 1587 and was moved to the end of the central route in 1817 where it still stands today some 200 years later. Despite the far more famous nearby attractions of the Colosseum and Circus Maximus, with a renaissance air with the ancient views of the Caracalla Baths, this park should not be overlooked!
Despite the entry fee, Rome’s Botanical Garden is 30-acres of unadulterated Trastevere tranquillity minus the tourists. Now under the care of the Department of Environmental Biology of the Sapienza University of Rome, it was established in 1883 and resides next to the 17th century Palazzo Corsini, once the home of Queen Christina of Sweden. The garden itself houses over 3,000 plant species and includes bamboo, rose and Japanese Zen gardens as well as the Giardino dei Semplici, which includes over 300 species of medicinal plants. The little ice cream and granita stand can keep you cool as you wander through the botanical bliss and moreover, is located on the side of Gianicolo hill, you’re guaranteed great views of the city.
This lesser known Roman park is a perfect opportunity to combine your culture cravings with some scenic relaxation. For any architecture aficionados, the gardens are occupied by 3 main residences, each showcasing a different style. After taking ownership in 1797, Giovanni Torlonia commissioned Giuseppe Valadier to update and enhance the main Casino Nobile turning it into a neoclassical palace. This pomp and grandeur later went on to attract Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini who used the villa as his state residence at the price of 1 Lira per year from the 1920s until his ultimate arrest in 1943. Today you can experience a guided tour of the bunker that Mussolini had built for his own protection. Aside from this darker past, the park is also home to the rustic, fairy-tale ‘Swiss Cabin’ known as Casino delle Civette, which was the residence of Giovanni Torlonia Jr and Casino dei Principi, a smaller, romantic villa used to host lavish parties for the nobility. So, an architectural feast surrounded by primped and preened English styled gardens – what more could you want?
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