The Farnese Gardens / Horti Farnesiani

by Danilo Brunetti

After a 30-year wait, the Eternal City’s real-life secret garden is officially open to the public. The Farnese Gardens, officially known as the Horti Farnesiani, recently underwent a lengthy restoration, which began back in 2013. They can be visited until late next October as part of an exhibition dubbed The Palatine and Its Secret Garden. Sprawled out on the northern slopes of the Palatine Hill, the Horti were commissioned by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese in 1550 and made landscape history as the rst private botanical gardens in Europe. At their peak, the gardens boasted frescoed aviaries where rare and exotic birds (imported from the Americas) roamed; and walking paths, underground passages, ancient sculptures, fountains, and a nymphaeum called the Ninfeo della Pioggia. The garden’s Renaissance villa, converted from the ruins of a former imperial palace, hovered over the Arch of Titus and the Roman Forum. By the 1700s, however, the gardens had fallen into disrepair, and were eventually torn up by archaeologists digging for ruins. The director of the Colosseum’s archeo- logical park, Alfonsina Russo, says, “This is an extraordinary place, entirely unique to the world … Here, in the mid-16th century, after centuries of neglect, the Farnese family built a splendid garden of delights on scenic terraces, an astonishing fusion between culture and nature.” According to Russo, the location of the Horti amongst ancient imperial ruins was strategic, emphasizing the Farnese family’s great power and in uence. Visitors to the newly revamped gardens will be greeted by laurels, cypresses, yews, citrus trees, vines, damask roses, and more, replanted in an attempt capture the Horti’s original splendor. A duo of exceptional sculptures, The Kneeling Barbarian and Iside Fortuna, part of the Farnese collection at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, have been temporarily returned to their former home for the occasion. Busts of The Dacian Prisoners, which once were kept in the gardens’ nymphaeum, are also on display. The exhibition features plenty of multimedia perks, like video mapping that conjures up the original layout of the gardens. Next up are plans to restore both the Ninfeo della Pioggia and the Casina Farnese. Russo adds, “Thanks to this rare and unique exhibition, a visitor won’t just have your run-of-the-mill museum experience, but will have at their disposal a place where they can truly meditate and revel in the beauty of Rome.” To book your visit, head to