Villa d'Este ★★

The gardens, showing the jets of the Fountain of Neptune with the Fountain of the Organ above and behind, Villa d'Este, Tivoli, Italy (Photo by M.Maselli)
The gardens, showing the jets of the Fountain of Neptune with the Fountain of the Organ above and behind

Amazing fountains in the formal gardens of a 16C villa

The Humanist and fabulously wealthy Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este, son of the notorious Lucrezia Borgia, transformed a 13th-century convent bang in the center of town into the sumptuous Villa d'Este in the 16th century—well, architect Piero Ligorio started it in 1550 at least; the construction outlived both men and the gardens were added to up until 1927.

This pleasure palace is renowned less for the villa itself—depite the amazing baroque frescoes in the rooms—than for the spectacular gardens, a baroque fantasy of some 500 fountains terraced down a hillside and surrounded by artificial grottoes and scads of umbrella pines, cypress, ilex, elm, and cedar.

Call before making the trip out here to be sure the fountains will be going at full blast that day, for the play of water against the sunlight is what the Villa D'Este is all about.

Though many of the fountains are spectacular—including the high jets of the Neptune Fountain and the long wall of One Hundred Fountains whose decorative frieze is romantically overgrown with mosses—they don't hold a candle to the recently restored musical fountains: the famous Water Organ fountain and the Fontana della Civitta (currently not working again) that recreates birdsong and the screech of an owl. Each sounds off every two hours starting at 10am (Civitta) and 10:30am (Organ), respectively.

This villa has the largest, most charming water-staircase in Tivoli; it's a slow-motion waterfall that leaps gently down the long slope of the gardens.

The views out over the valley are nice, and there are some inviting grottoes off to the sides as well.

One warning: Following the waterfall to the bottom is easy; climbing back up is more arduous than you might expect.

Photo gallery
  • The gardens, showing the jets of the Fountain of Neptune with the Fountain of the Organ above and behind, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by M.Maselli)
  • The Second Tiburtine Hall, a.k.a. the Room of Apollo, in the Appartamento nobile, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Cezar Suceveanu)
  • Detail of the ceiling frescoes in the Second Tiburtine Hall, a.k.a. the Room of Apollo, in the Appartamento nobile, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Adrian Pingstone)
  • The humble entrance to the villa just to the right of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Karelj)
  • The courtyard, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Karelj)
  • The Fountain of Venus in the courtyard, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso)
  • The Fontana della Civitta (Fountain of the Owl), Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Fczarnowski)
  • La Fontana di Nettuno (The Fountain of Neptune), Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Lalupa)
  • The Fontana dell
  • The Fountain of Diana, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Nux)
  • The Hall of Glory, frescoed by Mannerist master Federico Zuccari in 1566–77, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Lalupa)
  • Moses striking a rock and producing water, in the ceiling of The Hall of Moses, frescoed in the 1570s by Girolamo Muziano, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Livioandronico2013)
  • The gardens (the Fountain of Neptune with the Fountain of the Organ above and behind), Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo Diego Baravelli)
  • Le Cento Fontana (The Hundred Fountains), Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Burkhard Mücke)
  • Le Cento Fontana (The Hundred Fountains), Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by MarkusMark)
  • The Hall of Hercules, frescoed by Girolamo Muziano in 1565–66, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra)
  • The Room of Noah, frescoed in 1571 by Girolamo Muziano, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Bgabel)
  • The ceiling in the Room of Nobility, frescoed in 1566–77 by Federico Zuccari, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Livioandronico2013)
  • The Hall of the Fountain, frescoed by Girolamo Muziano in 1565–70, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Cezar Suceveanu)
  • Detail of the Hall of the Fountain, frescoed by Girolamo Muziano in 1565–70, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Dnalor 01)
  • The Hall of the Hunt was frescoed it eh early 17C, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Lalupa)
  • The staircase into the gardens, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Cezar Suceveanu)
  • The Park of Villa d
  • View of Tivoli from the villa, Villa d'Este, Italy (Photo by Retaggio)
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Tips

Call ahead for fountain hours

The Villa d'Este's fountains are at their most spectacular, obviously, when the villa lets the plumbing go full force and the jets are at their zenith. It pays to call ahead before making the trek out here to be sure the fountains will be full blast (they usually are on sunny weekend days).

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).