The Bomarzo’s Wood: a journey into the enchanted world of the Monster Park

The Bomarzo’s Wood: a journey into the enchanted world of the Monster Park

In the heart of Italy, in the picturesque region of Lazio, lies a hidden gem that has fascinated visitors for centuries: the Bosco di Bomarzo, also known as the Monster Park. This unique place, full of mystery and suggestion, is an extraordinary example of Renaissance art that intertwines nature and sculpture in a fairy-tale and surreal landscape.

“You who enter here, put your mind from side to side and then tell me if so many wonders are made by deception or by art”.

“You who wander through the world, wandering, / to see high and stupendous wonders, / come here where hideous faces are / elephants, lions, bears, ogres and dragons”

The history

The Monster Park was created in the 16th century at the behest of Prince Pier Francesco Orsini, known as Vicino Orsini, a Roman nobleman and patron of the arts. After the death of his beloved wife Giulia Farnese, Orsini decided to dedicate himself to the creation of a garden that would be a manifestation of his grief and artistic vision. To realise this ambitious project, he enlisted the help of the architect and sculptor Pirro Ligorio, famous for having completed St. Peter’s Basilica after Michelangelo’s death.

An itinerary among wonders and monsters

The Bosco di Bomarzo is an almost dreamlike place, out of time and, in a way, also out of space: a labyrinth of enigmatic sculptures, caves and unusual architecture that defy the imagination. The works, carved directly into the local stone, depict mythological figures, fantastic animals and grotesque characters emerging among the lush vegetation.

 

The most iconic sculptures

The Proteus Glaucus:

One of the first sculptures to greet visitors is Proteus Glaucus, a monstrous figure with a human face emerging from a boulder. It is one of the most fascinating representations in the park and evokes the Greek myth that Homer tells us about. According to the myth, Glaucus was a fisherman from Boeotia who underwent an extraordinary transformation: he discovered a magical herb with the power to bring back to life the fish he caught and, after tasting it, underwent a metamorphosis that transformed him into a sea deity. In some versions, driven by an irresistible desire, he throws himself into the sea and becomes immortal, joining the sea gods. Transformed, Glaucus takes on the appearance of a man with the lower body of a fish and lives in the sea abyss, prophesying the future and helping sailors. The myth of Glaucus is often associated with the themes of metamorphosis and integration between man and nature, reflecting Greek beliefs about divinity and water magic.

The Orc:

The park’s most famous sculpture, which has become its symbol, is the large head of the Orc with its mouth wide open, which serves as the entrance to a small room. An allegory of the mouth of hell (from the Latin Orcus = the God of the Underworld) the inscription that appears on this sculpture today is “Ogni pensiero qui vola” (Every thought here flies), but the original one was “Lasciate ogni pensiero voi ch’entrate” (Let go all thoughts you who enter), a reference to the famous 9th verse of the 3rd canto of Dante’s Inferno.

The Leaning House:

This sloping building predates the construction of the park. The house is said to have been built by Vicino’s wife following the failure of one of his military missions: the Orsini coat of arms and the inscription ‘Animus quiescendo fit prudentior ergo’ (‘Try to appease yourself in this dwelling’), a dedication to Cardinal Madruzzo who interceded to free him, are visible. It is an extraordinary example of deliberately distorted architecture. Entering the Leaning House gives a feeling of vertigo and disorientation, evoking an upside-down and unstable world.

The Dragon fighting the Dog, the Wolf and the Lion:

This dynamic scene captures a moment of struggle between a dragon and a lion, symbols of strength and power. The sculpture is remarkable for its workmanship, energy and vitality. It is, but only hypothetically, another reference to the Divine Comedy where, in Canto I, a she-wolf and a lion bar Dante’s entrance to Hell.

Hannibal’s elephant:

An enormous elephant in battle gear, topped by a tower and a leader, clutches an enemy soldier, possibly a Roman centurion, in its jaws. This sculpture is probably a tribute to Surus, who went down in history as the most valiant and sole survivor of the 37 elephants of Hannibal’s Punic exploits.

Echidna and the Fury:

The Echidna is a monstrous primordial being from Greek mythology. She has the appearance of a woman but with a snake-like lower body. She was the wife of Typhoeus with whom she sired a series of terrible but very famous beings: the dogs Orpheus and Cerberus, the Chimera, the Harpies, the Hydra of Lerna, the Sphinx, Ladon and the mythical and invulnerable Lion of Nemea. In mythology, the Echidna, Typhoeus and their progeny represented obstacles to the cosmic order. So it is Zeus himself who eliminates Typhoeus with thunderbolts, and later it will be the various heroes of Greek myth who continue his work: in his famous labours Hercules captures Cerberus and kills Orpheus, the Hydra and the Nemean Lion; Oedipus, solves the riddle and forces the Sphinx to kill himself; Bellerophon, with the help of the winged horse Pegasus, strikes down the Chimera. Echidna, on the other hand, falls at the hands of Argos panoptes.

 

Next to Echidna, the Fury, also a serpentine woman with dragon wings.

Ceres and Proserpine:

The well-known myth of Ceres and Persephone (Proserpina in Roman mythology) also lives again in Bomarzo. It is a central story in Greek and Roman mythology and to understand the work it is good to remember it: Ceres is the Roman goddess of agriculture, harvest and fertility, equivalent to the Greek goddess Demeter. Persephone, her daughter, is abducted by Hades (Pluto for the Romans), the god of the underworld, who takes her to his underground realm to make her his bride. Ceres, desperate for her daughter’s disappearance, searches for her incessantly for nine days and nights, neglecting her divine functions. During this time, the earth becomes barren and crops cease to grow, bringing hunger and desolation to humans. Eventually, Zeus (Jupiter for the Romans) intervenes and orders Hades to return Persephone to her mother. However, Persephone ate pomegranate seeds in the realm of the dead, thus binding her to that place for part of the year. An agreement is reached: Persephone will spend part of the year with her mother on earth and the rest with Hades in the underworld. Ceres rises gigantic from the roots of the earth. The exact image of the divinity she represents.

 

Proserpina, on the other hand, is placed in the centre of the avenue and is represented as a cosy bench: a drape on her shoulders and on her head a crown, that of queen of Hades.

Hercules and Cacus

This is the largest statue in the park and depicts the struggle between Hercules and Cacus, son of the god Vulcan. One of the famous Labours of Hercules, symbolically representing the stages of a spiritual journey.

Neptune:

The Temple:

At the end of the route is the Temple, built in memory of Giulia Farnese. This work was realised towards the end of the work on the Parco dei Mostri and is a small temple in Doric style, octagonal in shape with a portal adorned by a large empty tympanum. The ceiling is decorated with Farnese lilies and Orsini roses, commemorating the union of Vicino and Giulia. The small temple originally had medallions in the plinth decorated with the twelve signs of the zodiac. This building, with its classical appearance in contrast to the generally grotesque style of the other works, offers a moment of reflection and peace in the context of the park.

Meaning and interpretations

The Bosco di Bomarzo has been the subject of numerous interpretations over the centuries. Some scholars see the park as a representation of Orsini’s inner journey through pain and redemption. Others interpret the sculptures as alchemical and philosophical symbols, reflecting the esoteric knowledge of the Renaissance. The enigmatic nature of the park is amplified by the cryptic inscriptions that accompany many of the sculptures, which seem to invite visitors to search for a hidden meaning behind appearances.

The origin of the name ‘Panca Etrusca’ is uncertain. Whether it was Prince Vicino Orsini or the artist of the work who named it so, it could represent a tribute to this civilisation that had its cradle in the land of Tuscia, where the Park is located. The inscription, on the other hand, is emblematic of the meaning that Vicino wished to give to his Monster Park: “Voi che pel mondo gite errando, vaghi/ di veder meraviglie alte e stupende, / venite qua dove son facce orrende / elefanti, leoni, orsi, orchi e draghi”.

 

A place of fascination and mystery

Today, the Bosco di Bomarzo continues to enchant visitors from all over the world. The park is not only an extraordinary work of art, but also a place of contemplation and wonder. Walking through its paths is an experience that invites reflection and discovery, offering a unique glimpse into a time when art, nature and philosophy were deeply interconnected.

The Bosco di Bomarzo remains an enduring testimony to the human capacity to create beauty and mystery, transforming personal pain into a celebration of imagination and life. Anyone visiting this magical place cannot fail to be fascinated by its dreamlike atmosphere and the extraordinary inventiveness of its creator.

 

Opening times and costs:

The Parco dei Mostri di Bomarzo is, except for Christmas Day, open all year round with continuous opening hours and different time slots depending on the season:

08.30 – 19.00 from 01/04 to 31/08
08.30 to sunset from 01/09 to 31/03

Admission is charged at the following rates:

Adult or children over 13 years: 13.00 €
Children from 4 to 13 years: 8.00 €
Children up to 4 years of age: free
Disabled: free

The park is almost entirely accessible by wheelchair, except, of course, for areas where heights and unstable terrain do not allow it. The Leaning House, for example, is not practicable due to the presence of architectural barriers, but even if you cannot enjoy the unbalanced effect from the inside, you can admire the picturesque architecture from the outside. Animals not allowed, except for guide animals.

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