During the last decades of the 18th century, in parallel with the spread of masonic ideals across Europe, Italian gardens witnessed a proliferation of occult symbolisms that found fertile soil in the framework of the English-style landscape gardens. The presence of architectural follies, such as temples dedicated to Friendship, Virtue, Wisdom, as well as towers, pyramids and grottoes in a garden layout are the unmistakable milestones of an initiatory pathway.
In the garden of Villa Pallavicini in Pegli in Liguria, a boat route across some grottoes, evocative of Charon’s passage, for instance, is an allusion to the human transition from ignorance to knowledge; in Veneto, Giuseppe Jappelli drew inspiration from the poems of Virgil, Ariosto and Tasso, and the legends of the Templars to recreate settings and landscapes evocative of ancient fairy tales and chivalric feats.
Many Tuscan gardens are a result of the combined efforts of patrons and architects who were members of the “brotherhood”: among these are Giardino Torrigiani in Florence, dominated by a Gothic Revival tower for astronomical studies, Niccolò Puccini’s garden in Scornio with its Pantheon of illustrious men, Temple of Pythagoras, and Tower of Catiline. In the Kingdom of Naples, Freemasonry was a well-rooted organisation that enjoyed the protection of Queen Maria Carolina who at her behest introduced an initiatory itinerary in the landscape garden of Reggia di Caserta, and in Palermo had the Casina Cinese in the Parco della Favorita marked with hermetic symbols.