Tivoli’s Villa d’Este: a Renaissance Garden with Liz Brewster - Context Travel

Tivoli’s Villa d’Este: a Renaissance Garden with Liz Brewster

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In 16th century Rome, an invitation to visit the rich and powerful Governor of Tivoli, Cardinal Ippolito II D’Este was an opportunity that nobody would have turned down. It was a chance to see one of the most famous, admired and imitated private gardens of Europe. A sumptuous terraced garden of plants, flowers, rare citrus trees, spectacular fountains, hundreds of water jets, cascades, bubbling canals, water “tricks”, mazes, caves, belvederes with sweeping views of the countryside, created to delight the eye and astonish the senses was often where the Cardinal entertained his guests. Led by a local architect, this conversation will explore the gardens and the intriguing context behind them.

After losing his bid for papacy in the 1550 conclave, Cardinal D’Este was “exiled” by his rival, the new pope Julius III to govern the ancient town of Tivoli, 34 kilometers west of Rome. He set to work expanding and remodeling the old governor’s quarters to make it a worthy residence for a man of his high political and social status.

Pirro Ligorio, Neapolitan architect and antiquarian was the mastermind behind the garden design. He not only procured the classical roman statuary for the Cardinal’s personal collection but liberally sprinkled pieces throughout his patron’s garden. Rumors about the pleasure garden decorated with naked (!) statues of pagan gods and goddesses as well as about the Cardinal’s questionable interests and behavior filtered back to Rome to the ears of later popes, who were scandalized enough to accuse him of simony (corruption), confiscate his property, strip him of his governorship and exile him from the Papal States.


Led by architect, tour guide and educator Liz Brewster, this interactive seminar will explore this extraordinary garden, examine the protagonists involved in its creation and discuss the political and social climate during the life of the “Cardinal of Ferrara”. We’ll “read” the mythological symbolism woven into this garden that glorified its patron - details that a 16th century intellectual would have picked up on, but may not be obvious to today’s visitor. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with a better understanding of the garden that inspired “pleasure gardens” for centuries to come.

Liz Brewster, a native of San Francisco, California holds degrees in architecture from the University of California at Berkeley and Università degli studi "La Sapienza", Rome. She specialized in restoration and urban design. Her restoration projects have brought her to work in direct contact with the rich historical layers of Rome and Italy. She has been leading study walks for Context Rome since its beginning and has lived in Rome since 1988 practicing architecture, researching design and lecturing at university study abroad programs.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.