I created this blog in honor of the wonderful, mysterious Monster Park in Bomarzo. I grew up in Italy and have visited the park many times and strongly recommend it to anyone interested in unusual beauty.


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Marvels of Bomarzo

(Time Magazine; Monday, Jul. 14, 1958)

OFF the beaten track 60 miles northwest of Rome stands one of the strangest witnesses on earth to man’s love of the curious and bizarre. Near the Villa Orsini at Bomarzo is a whole sculpture garden of beasts and ogres carved from volcanic rock (see color pages) on the site. Rarely has sentiment taken a more bizarre turn. Created in the 1560s by Duke Pierfrancesco (“Vicino”) Orsini, the sculpture garden was meant not only to astonish and delight, but to serve as a memorial to Orsini’s deceased wife.

The garden was “rediscovered” when Salvador Dali journeyed there from Rome to pose in an ogre’s mouth (opposite) while conversing with a white cat. Research by Italian and English scholars indicates that, far from being a surrealist chamber of horrors, the garden was originally a rather solemn effort to combine the wonders of the ancient world with figures from a pagan sacred grove. With sphinxes on either side of the entrance to give fair warning, Vicino Orsini did all he could to create the impression that some otherworldly spirit had brought the strange stone figures into existence, left no record of who the actual sculptors or stonecutters were.

Some of the sources of Orsini’s inspiration can be guessed at. The ogre seems borrowed from the Mouth of Hell leading to Pluto’s cave, as illustrated in medieval manuscripts on Ovid. The curious words ringing the ogre’s mouth—Lasciate Ogni Pensiero Voi Que Entrate (Abandon all thought, ye who enter)—refer to the cup of forgetfulness ancient Greeks thought was drunk before crossing the river Lethe. The dragon-fighting lions (probably an oblique reference to political feuds) derived from a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci. The elephant with castle was a symbol used to depict Eleazar’s slaying of the beast of King Antiochus (/ Maccabees 6:17-46), a feat of self-sacrifice interpreted as prefiguring Christ’s martyrdom. But many of Vicino Orsini’s fantasies remain obscure. He set out to create a garden unlike any ever seen—and he succeeded.

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