A Gracious Gift from the Past
IN THE EARLY 16th century, the Cardinal Raffaele Riario, a relative of Pope Sixtus IV who was Bishop of Viterbo in 1498-1506, bought a large property on the wooded slope of Monte Cimino outside Bagnaia and populated it with game to go hunting there with his guests. At that time, sport hunting was regarded as a pastime suitable primarily for cardinals and popes.
In 1517, Cardinal Riario was charged with being involved in a plot to kill Pope Leo X. He was eventually acquitted, but his properties were confiscated and he quietly retreated to Naples.
The cardinal’s Monte Cimino hunting grounds were appropriated by Cardinal Niccolò Ridolfi, a nephew of Pope Leo X, who was Governor of Viterbo in 1532-48. Carnidal Ridolfi turned the hunting grounds into a park by building an aqueduct which carried water to the highest point of the wood.
A few decades later, the grounds passed to Cardinal Gian Francesco Gambara, the bishop of Viterbo in 1566-76., who commissioned the creation of a magnificent garden.
Design ideas are drawn from earlier projects. The geometry was inspired by the Belvedere at the Vatican; the use of water by the Villa d'Este; the circular island echos Hadrian's 'marine theatre' a Tivoli and the isolette at the Boboli. There is an echo too from the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut: terraces command views down a sloping hillside.
A grotto sits at the summit of the hill, from which flows water which is full of delight. It does not follow the central axis. Symbolically, the garden represents the tale of humanity's descent from the Golden Age (based on Ovid's Metamorphosis). There is also a Grotto of the Deluge.
Paths lead to an outdoor dining area with a fountain table, and then to other enclosures. The Water Chain is the best and earliest example of a stepping cascade. The Villa also has a park, now in some disrepair, which had the character of a hunting park but is too small for a hunt.