We had wanted to visit the Bomarzo Monster Park for a long time, as many people had described it to us as a magical and unique place: a place where myths, legends, monsters and characters from literature are creations made of stone and covered in moss.

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Well, we finally managed to see it!


Where it is

The Monster Park, also known as the Sacro Bosco, is located in Bomarzo, a small town in the Lazio region of Italy. This extraordinary park is a unique work of art created in the 16th century by the Italian nobleman Pier Francesco Orsini, known as Vicino Orsini.

It is located in the area of the same name, Bomarzo, in the province of Viterbo. You can get there by car taking Autostrada del Sole and then exit at Orte if coming South and at Attigliano if coming both north and south, then follow the local signs along the road. We used Google Maps as a sat-nav, setting these geographical coordinates: latitude N 42° 48′ 95″, longitude E 12° 24′ 82″. Upon our arrival we found a free (non-monitored) parking and, together with the entrance ticket, we received a map including the numbers of the art pieces.

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Link Google Maps

A bit of history

The Monster Park covers an area of about 16 hectares and features a series of monumental stone sculptures representing mythological creatures, monsters, gods and enigmatic figures. The forest is inhabited by statues depicting soldiers, monsters, divine figures, but also Chinese dragons, giant elephants, ominous-looking houses and much more.

Scientists, historians and philologists worked hard to clarify the labyrinth of symbols the grove is made of, but there are still so many misteries that a general interpretative strategy hasn’t been found yet.

The Gardens of Bomarzo were designed by the architect Pirro Ligorio in 1552 (maybe not everybody knows that he has been the one who finished Saint Peter’s after Michelangelo died), who named it Sacred Grove. The Gardens were commissioned by the Prince Francesco Orsini, also called Vicino, to vent his heartache, as his heart had been broken by his wife death, Giulia Farnese.


Inside the park

Entrance

You need to walk under a crenellated arch to go in and this will give you the feeling of entering another kind of world. The route suggested by the map starts here and we recommend you to follow it, so you won’t miss out the sculptures hidden in the branches.

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photo Daderot © Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Sphinxes

As soon as you get in, you’ll see two sphinxes, women with a lion’s body, which are there as guarding the entrance to the park.

Below the left sphinx you can read:

“He who does not go there with eyes wide open and lips sealed will not be able to admire the most wonderful marvels”.

And below the one on the right:

“Oh ye who enter here and use thy Wit to try to understand what thou shalt see from beginning to end, tell me if so many marvels were created to make the Err or for Art”.

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photo Daderot @ Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Alla ricerca dei Mostri di Bomarzo nel Sacro Bosco Italia in giro in giro blog sfinge dx
photo Daderot @ Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The bust of Pan Giano

Pay attention to this statue, since it’s so small that it could pass unnoticed.

Once there were many different statues at the entrance, then removed or relocated, representing ancient deities such as Saturn, Faun, Evander and the three-headed Hecate.

Alla ricerca dei Mostri di Bomarzo nel Sacro Bosco Italia in giro in giro blog Pan Giano

Proteus Glaucus

The first monster you’ll see going in is the head of Proteus, portrayed as a gigantic mask with a wide open mouth.

This statue alsoincludes the head of Glaucus, the fisherman who became the patron God of fishermen after eating a magical herb.

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Cascade

To the left of Proteus Glaucus the map shows a small waterfall over Fosso della Concia. You’ll be able to hear it, if silence allows it, but you’ll see it only if you climb over.

The Mausoleum

There’s not much left of the mausoleum, you’ll find it half destroyed and crooked. Next to the warrior, there is a marine nymph.

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photo Davide Mauro @ CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Hercules and Cacus

Beautiful. Here it’s represented one of the themes recurring throughout the Gardens: the struggle of good and evil, the struggle among giants and the struggle of Hercules, the mythical hero who dismembers Cacus with his bare hands.

Next to the statue there is an interesting inscription, partially clarifying:

“If Rhodes was elevated by its colossus, so this one makes now glorious my wood, but more I cannot do. I do as much as I am able to”.

The Tortoise

You’ll be fascinated by the beauty of the gigantic tortoise supporting Nike on its back, the winged goddess of victory in Greek mythology.

The tortoise is a symbol of stability and longevity and it represents the link between the world and heaves. This work symolizes the path to purification and the winged woman is the peak of this permutation.

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The Ogre

It’s a very large ogre, or killer whale, coming out from the ground. You’ll notice it seems like the Tortoise and the Ogre are staring at each other.

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photo Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France, CC BY 2.0 @ via Wikimedia Commons

The Fountain of Pegasus

It's a fountain where the figure of Pegasus arises.

The winged horse symbolizes the passionate nature and the spontaneous impetuosity that can be mastered through the spiritual will of man (represented by his wings). You’ll notice that both, Pegasus and the Tortoise, look in the same direction.

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Graces and Nymphaeum

A large tank tracing the Graeco-Roman nymphaeums, decorated with the figures of the three Graces and the three nymphs.

On the nymphaeum there is part of an inscription:

“L’antro la fonte il li […] Et d’ogni oscuro pensier gl […] m […] com”

...which still remains a mistery to us, mere mortals!

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photo Davide Mauro @ CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Alla ricerca dei Mostri di Bomarzo nel Sacro Bosco Italia in giro in giro blog Grazie

Dolphins fountain

It’s a fountain decorated with figures of dolphins. We invite you to look for the Triton at the foot of the fountain.

photo Davide Mauro, CC BY-SA 4.0 @ via Wikimedia Commons

Venus (or Isis)

It’s a monumental sculpture of the Graeco-Roman goddess Venus, or the Egyptian Isis, on a large shell..

Venus is dressed like an ancient Roman matron, but her facial features remind us of the women from Etruscan.

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photo Daderot © Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Next to Venus you can also see a beautiful mask..

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The theatre

Not far away from the nymphaeum, you’ll find another place showing a classical style: the theatre. It actually is a very small reproduction of the exedra of the proscenium, with a line of obelisks in front of it and, above them, the heads of the various gods that used to be at the entrance of the park.

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photo Daderot © Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Obelisks

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The Hanging House

This crooked house, built over a sloped boulder, is amusing. The feeling we got going up to the first floor was incredible, we all started walking slanting to compensate for the sense of dizziness and the lack of balance.

Ram

It’s a (very ruined) seated ram.

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The Etruscan Bench

It’s a bench located in a niche, which follows faithfully the shape of a Roman triclinium.

There is an inscription above it, saying:

“You who have travelled the world wishing to see great and stupendous marvels, come here, where there are horrendous faces, elephants, lions, bears, orcs and dragons”.

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The Jar of Cantaro

It's a very large vase with a controversial meaning that could be seen as a typical component of Mannerist iconography.

Another explanation links this sculpture to the vase that Bacchus took with him to the underworld. The theme of Hades often seems to be recalled in this side of the Garden (the ogre, Pluto, Cerberus) and this could support the second theory.

Alla ricerca dei Mostri di Bomarzo nel Sacro Bosco Italia in giro in giro blog Bocca vaso cantaro

The Ogre

This is surely the most celebrated figure in the Park and its greatest symbol. It looks like a large rocky face with a wide open mouth, but it actually is a room dug in the tuff.

Some steps make it possible to enter it and inside there are some benches and a table. Due to the shape of the room, the voices in there sound amplified and altered, producing a frightful effect.

Pay attention to the entrance, where you can read:

“All thoughts fly”.

Be very patient here, since the queue to take a picture is really long.

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In this photo you can see Krystal with us - how tiny she was!
Today Krystal is a young lady and has her own blog, if you want to see it click on this link https://krysland.com/

The Dragon

More precisely a wyvern (a legendary creature represented as a winged, bipedal reptile), a reptile-like monster fighting against three animals, a dog, a lion and a wolf, unfortunately unrecognisable by now.

Alla ricerca dei Mostri di Bomarzo nel Sacro Bosco Italia in giro in giro blog Drago

The Elephant

A huge elephant carrying a tower on its back and a Roman legionnaire in its trunk, as if it wanted to crush him. It looks like a reference to Hannibal’s feats during the Punic Wars.

Ceres

The great goddess, nurturer of Rome.

The goddess of grain and mother of Proserpina, she's depicted as a woman with a basket of spikes on her head and a torch and horn of plenty in her hands. Look out for the forest figures around her.

Square of the Vases

A large square with huge stone vases, once decorated with some inscriptions, now illegible.

Alla ricerca dei Mostri di Bomarzo nel Sacro Bosco Italia in giro in giro blog Piazzale Vasi
photo Daderot © Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Neptune

A colossal statue of Neptune, god of the seas, lying on a bed of water (like the Roman water deities), holding a dolphin in his arms.

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The Dolphin

To the right of Neptune, you'll see this very large dolphin with its mouth open.

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The Sleeping Woman

It's a very large nymph, sleeping sinuously, leaning on her arm..

Since she belongs to this enchanted forest, she has been nicknamed "The Sleeping Beauty".

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Jupiter Ammon

Jupiter Ammon is there, keeping an eye on Venus.

The big mask with the mouth of truth.

Alla ricerca dei Mostri di Bomarzo nel Sacro Bosco Italia in giro in giro blog mascherone

Echidna

On the other side of Pinecones Square is Echidna, represented as a colossal woman with two snake tails instead of legs (like the medieval iconography of mermaids).

Alla ricerca dei Mostri di Bomarzo nel Sacro Bosco Italia in giro in giro blog echidna

The Lions

Between Echidna and the Fury there are two curled up lions: they are both Echidna's sons and they are also on the Viterbo coat of arms.

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The Fury

It’s a woman with a dragon’s tail and wings.

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The Heraldic Bears

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Pine Cone Square

It's a large, flat, open space with ornamental pine cones and acorns.

Alla ricerca dei Mostri di Bomarzo nel Sacro Bosco Italia in giro in giro blog piazzale pigne

Proserpine

This goddess of Hades (from Greek mythology), minor goddess of the underworld and queen of the afterlife, is represented by a woman whose arms are outstretched and whose face looks young, although the statue is very damaged. Her dress is actually a bench where you can take a break.

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Cerberus

A few steps away from Proserpina you'll find Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades. We now have some doubts as to where the soul of Vicino Orsini's "beloved" wife rests...

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The Temple

Slightly isolated from the main route through the park, there is a singular building, a small temple that was actually built twenty years later than the rest of the park, in honour of Vicino Orsini's second wife, a Farnese princess.

The Temple follows architectural styles from different periods, such as Classical Antiquity (fronton, colonnade and vestibule) and Renaissance (dome). Inside the building there is a very small round room where the Bettini family, who restored the building, placed a tombstone in memory of Tina Severi Bettini, who also died from a contusion suffered during the restoration of the park.

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The Round Terrace

It's a terrace on the large open space below, the last beauty of the Monster Park.

Alla ricerca dei Mostri di Bomarzo nel Sacro Bosco Italia in giro in giro blog noi

Interesting facts

Not everyone knows that Salvador Dali fell in love with this park and was inspired by it. Here is a video of the great artist during his visit to Bomarzo.

Michelangelo Antonioni also found it fascinating and made a famous documentary of just under 10 minutes about the park.

The Monster Park was abandoned for many years after the death of Vicino Orsini, but was later restored and opened to the public in the 20th century. Today it is one of the most important tourist attractions in Latium, attracting visitors from all over the world.


Conclusions

The map given at the entrance doesn’t include any explanation and you won’t find any informative panel inside the Park. As a consequence, if having no information at all, the visit could end up in just a walk across a grove with a lot of odd statues.

We sometimes assume there aren’t places worth a visit close to where we live, but this destination is suitable for both those coming from Rome and from other places. Renting a car will make it possible. In conclusion, it’s perfect for all those who are fascinated by esoteric world, symbolism and legends.

The combination of beauty, mystery and eccentricity makes Monster Park a unique place. It is a testament to human imagination and creativity and an opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in a fantasy world.

If you are in Italy and you have a passion for art and adventure, then the Parco dei Mostri di Bomarzo is definitely a must for you.

Ciao da Cris e Marco del blog in giro in giro

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