General history of Villa d’Este Gardens: Roman times
Villa d’Este is located in Tivoli, a city rich in history and traditions about 30 km north-east from Rome. The foundation of Tivoli is lost in the mists of time, probably it was established by people coming from the ancient Greece. In ancient times it was called Tibur and perhaps its name come from a legendary eponymous hero named Tiburto or Tiburno that gave the name to the city he founded together with his two brothers Catillo and Corace.
The foundation of Tivoli is traced to April 5, 1215 BC. Perhaps this period of the year was chosen in memory of the sacred rite that the ancient Greek populations performed in honor of spring.
In Roman times, Tivoli became a residential area.
The hilly position, the proximity to the city of Rome connected by the Via Tiburtina, built in 286 BC, its beauty, the healthiness of the place, the presence of construction materials such as tuff, travertine, the wealth of water with the passage of four Roman aqueducts and finally the navigability of the Aniene river favored the construction of villas reserved for the otium.
Here the Roman aristocracy has a holiday. In the territory of Tivoli there are the remains of approx. 200 villas built in Roman times between the Republican period and the Imperial period. Here famous roman people like Cesare, Quintilio Varo, Mecenate, Emperor August have their country villas. The Villa d’Este itself is built on the remains of a Roman villa (1st century BC). Still today we can see some roman floor mosaics inside the Palace.
Hadrian’s Villa the most famous roman Villa
The most famous villa is Hadrian’s Villa built in imperial times by Emperor Hadrian (built between 118 AD and 138 AD) and which appears to be more extensive than Pompeii. Here Roman architecture is expressed in buildings of all kinds: noble pavilions, imperial palaces, baths, theaters, temples, nymphaeums and gardens. Buildings built in tuff and clay-brick and marvelous decorations made with precious marble coming from all over the Roman Empire, with artifacts and statues of all kinds.
With the end of the Roman Empire (the official date is 476 AD), Tivoli was invaded by barbarians. In 537 d.C. Totila, king of the Ostrogoths, besieged Tivoli killing the bishop of the city. In 533 Tivoli fell into Byzantine hands and then it re-entered the Duchy of Rome. In the city were established two parties: one in favor of the Pope and the other in favor of the Empire.
In 1461, Pope Pius II Piccolomini built a Stronghold named Rocca Pia, to better control the territory of Tivoli, which can still be visited today. In 1522, Tivoli passed under the direct control of the Pope. The city of Tivoli from this period will be administered by the governor elected by the Pope. The governors of Tivoli housed in a convent, firstly Benedictine and then Franciscan, annexed to the Church of Saint Mary Major (now located next to Villa d’Este) which was completed in the 12th century (1130). The convents and monasteries in this historical period have a very important social and economic function.
They are also cultural centers where classical culture is transmitted. Also, Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este should have been hosted in the convent annexed to the Church of Saint Mary Major in Tivoli when he was appointed the governor of Tivoli in 1550. But the Cardinal accustomed to a splendid residence refused to stay in this monastery and preferred to build a splendid residence: the convent was replaced by the Villa d’Este, whose work began in 1560 and ended in 1572 the Cardinal’s death. Even today, when you enter the Villa, you can see the remains of this convent cloister turned into a courtyard inside Palazzo Estense.