Villa d'Este, an Italian masterpiece of garden art, Unesco World Heritage Site, with its impressive concentration of fountains, nymphaea, grottoes, water games and hydraulic music, has been a source of emulation for several European mannerist and baroque gardens.
The prestige of the garden is even greater when its beauty is studied in the artistic, historic and landscape context of Tivoli, with ruins such as Villa Adriana in the fascinating surroundings of ravines, caves and waterfalls.
Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este, governor of Tivoli from 1550, revived the opulence of the courts of Ferrara, Roma and Fontainebleau, and gave the magnificence of Villa Adriana a new lease of life. The project by the painter-archaeologist-architect Pirro Ligorio was produced after 1560 to be eventually created by the court architect Alberto Galvani. It was almost completed on the death of the Cardinal in 1572 but unfortunately we have no records of its initial splendour since the precious furnishings and collection of antique statues has been dispersed. In the following centuries new important works were registered, involving great masters such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The decorations of the palace halls were organised by protagonists of late Roman Mannerism, including Muziano, Agresti and Federico Zuccari.
In spite of it having undergone a long spell of progressive neglect, plunder and decline, it became one of the essential, exclusive milestones of the Grand Tour from the XVIIth century and destination of artists such as Fragonard, Hubert and Turner. Since the end of the First World War Villa d'Este has been the property of the Italian State and in 2001 was registered amongst the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In 2016 it became a fundamental part of the “Villa Adriana and Villa d'Este” Institute, which has undertaken an important restoration programme reaffirming the focal position of the site in the renaissance recovery of the tradition of the ancient garden.