“You who travel around the world / to see tall stupendous marvels /come here, where there are horrendous faces, /elephants, lions, ogres and dragons” reads one of the inscriptions in Bomarzo, a park home to enormous erratic rocks creating mysterious, monstrous and arcane figures populating a surreal world filled with allusions and metaphors.
In the castle city of Bomarzo, Vicino Orsini completed the construction of his ancestral home with evocative decor and emblematic inscriptions; later, in the mid-16th century, he dedicated his time to the “boschetto”, a thicket in the valley, creating an amazing park of sculptures set in an extraordinary natural landscape and among Etruscan remains. The enormous rocks found in the area were skilfully “worked” by still largely unknown artists who turned them into winged dragons, giant tortoises, two-tailed sirens, fish with enormous mouths, colossal gods, sphinxes, Pegasus, Cerberus, a huge Orcus and Bears holding the family emblem. There are also some complex scenes: one is the elephant with a siege tower and a warrior on its back, and carrying the lifeless body of another soldier with its trunk, a possible allusion to Vicino’s son who died in the Battle of Lepanto; another is a group with Orlando who having become mad is dismembering a shepherd’s body. Winding paths lead to new sights, small alcoves alternate with theatrical spaces, and a harmonious temple counterpoints the crazy leaning house: the whole park is a conceptual maze of metaphors and symbols, the result of an exchange of ideas between Vicino and illustrious humanists such as Annibal Caro, Claudio Tolomei and Cardinal Madruzzo. After Vicino’s death in 1585 and various changes of ownership, the site was abandoned for a long period and became overgrown with brambles until it was discovered half way through the last century. Since then, it has fascinated and intrigued those willing to decipher its meaning or simply enjoy a magical place.
The leaning house
This small house was built with a lean of 23 degrees, the same as the earth’s axis. Upon entering the house visitors have a disconcerting sensation of instability: they falter, lose their balance, and ask themselves the meaning of this bizarre creation that defies the rules of gravity and makes them feel as if they have lost their footing and their bearings.
The architectural folly of the leaning house is counterbalanced by the harmonious classic temple created by Raffaello da Montelupo and dedicated by Vicino to his beloved wife Giulia Farnese, who died prematurely. The building might perhaps represent a state of serenity one reaches after crossing the chaos and the horrors of life, the conclusion of man’s troubled spiritual ascesis.
This huge mask with its frightening mouth wide open both attracting and terrifying, features an enigmatic inscription along its upper that reads “Ogni pensiero vola”, every thought flies. What may look like the door to the underworld leads to what turns out to be, once the visitors’ eyes get used to the dim light, a dining space equipped with a peperino rock table ready for a banquet.