The Park of the Monsters, with its larger-than-life sculptures, takes you inside a surprisingly serene and quiet atmosphere in the mountainside town of Bomarzo, Italy. In 1552, Prince Pier Francesco “Vicino” Orsini commissioned the sculpting of this bizarre 16th-century pleasure garden filled with monstrous statues—and no one knows why.
Especially if you’d like to dance on Italy’s mysterious side, every tourist leaves this site with their own interpretations of what Prince Orsini was trying to convey. It’s an especially good place to visit if you’d like to see otherworldly art that—for its time—was unlike anything else in the art world.
Please keep reading if you wish to learn more about the history and discover what famous artists loved this place and even shot a short film here.
Where is the Park of the Monsters and How to Get There
Situated 56.7 mi (93 km) from Rome, the Park of the Monsters (Gardens of Bomarzo) is only a 1 hour and 16-minute drive from Rome. Bomarzo is a town of 1,799 inhabitants located in the province of Viterbo. Especially if you lack the time to plan out every detail of your trip, you may find it more convenient to sign up for an organized day tour. It has a huge benefit for solo travelers. You can do this right from Rome.
History of the Gardens of Bomarzo
Sitting right below in a wooded valley at the bottom of Castle Orsini, Simone Moschino made the monster sculptures and Pirro Ligorio designed the park. Pirro Ligorio is the famous architect who completed St. Peters after the death of Michelangelo.
During this time of the Late Renaissance, gardens in Italy usually had immaculate hedges, wide terraces, and beautiful fountains. That shows you the typical Italian garden of the Renaissance, but the Garden of Bomarzo took a turn for the unusual and slightly disturbing. Why did Prince Orsini make the Park of the Monsters? Was it the result of madness?
Over the course of 25 years (1560 to 1585), Prince Orsini planned out his giant stone monster garden. Scattered across 3 hectares of wooded forest, bizarre sculptures dot the landscape. Unfortunately, when Prince Orsini died in 1585, his heirs thought him mad and abandoned the Gardens of Bomarzo.
For over 400 years, the gardens sat in squalor and decay until the Bettini family purchased them in 1954 and restored what they could of this lost park.
Exploring the Park of the Monsters: 10 Main Sculptures
No one knows the exact reasons for the layout of the Gardens of Bomarzo. In fact, many of the monsters of Bomarzo appear unconnected to a coherent design. We do have a clue as to what Prince Orsini may have thought when he designed it. One inscription on an obelisk reads, “sol per sfogare il Core.” In Italian that translates as, “Just to set the heart free.”
Let’s take a look at some of the sculptures of the monster park in Italy.
The winged horse found in Greek mythology, they call it Fountain of Pegasus at Bomarzo Garden. It ranks as one of the key features with the statue appearing to face the sky. Taking a closer look at this statue at the Park of the Monsters, it, in fact, faces the Villa of Vocino. In understanding its significance, Orsini, under the Vocino Family, was seen as the “old money,” while the Pegasus was the emblem of the Farnese family.
Farnese was the “new money,” and it was symbolic of them looking toward the Vocino family and trying to emulate them. This was, in fact, more of a friendly rivalry between them.
Referred to as Venus of Cimini, this statue at the monster park in Italy resembles that of a local Tuscani woman. She stands on a conch shell.
Perhaps one of the more disturbing statues at Bomarzo Garden, this statue shows Hercules in the action of ripping apart the giant Cacus. He’s in the upside-down position and screaming. Some believe it represents the triumph of good over evil.
4. Turtle with a Winged Woman on Its Back
Among the symbolism of the turtle, the turtle represents wisdom and power, and attachment to the earth. The woman, on the other hand, represents a winged victory.
All of the sculptures at the monster park in Italy are wonderful, but the Elephant statue leaves you particularly speechless. It carries a fighting tower on its back, and at the same time, it crushes a soldier with its trunk. The art is a reference to Hannibal’s use of elephants for invading the Italian peninsula.
Easily the most recognizable statue at Sacro Bosco di Bomarzo, and it was believed to symbolize the mouth of hell. The inscription above the entrance reads, “Abandon all thought.” This inscription references the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri where it says, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Inside you will find tables and seats.
7. Proteus Glaucus
This statue has a globe and castle on top, which represents the Orsini family. This is a huge sculpture at the Park of the Monsters. It’s nearly hidden from view from the castle above.
8. The Sleeping Nymph
Both divine and human, the sleeping nymph represents purity in Greek mythology. You see this reclined statue being watched by a small dog.
In this depiction, you see two lions attacking a dragon. The statue represents Satan and the battle between good and evil.
10. The Leaning House
You never believe that you will get so disoriented until you enter the Leaning House. Try to walk in here without losing your balance!
When you first arrive, Proserpina, the wife of Pluto, greets all tourists with open arms. It’s one of the first things you see at Sacro Bosco di Bomarzo.
The Surreal Atmosphere of the Gardens
With so much art that resembles surrealist paintings here, it should come as no surprise that the famous surrealist Spanish painter Salvador Dali was inspired by Sacro Bosco di Bomarzo. He, in fact, created a short film of it when he visited the site in 1938:
Salvador Dali loved Bomarza so well that it also inspired his 1946 painting, “The Temptation of St. Anthony.”
The place has a somewhat twisted vibe that can sometimes evoke eerie emotions in you with the chaotic interplay of the sculptures. This park asks you to gaze upon the monsters as a way to put things into perspective. Originally, they called this place, “The Sacred Woods of Bomarzo,” but everyone called it the Park of the Monsters and the name stuck.
Restoration and Preservation
This fantastic garden receives an estimated 40,000 visitors every year. Efforts to restore it to its original glory began in 1954 after Giovanni Bettini bought the property. Believe it or not, ever since, the Bettini family has continued to restore the property based on the short film and painting that Salvador Dali made. The restoration continued right up to the 1970s.
The Best Accommodations Near the Park of Monsters
Especially if you’d like to stay in the area, you can find some accommodation nearby. Some of the places where you could stay include:
Stay in a Late Renaissance Mansion
Palazzo Orsini, the same name of the family responsible for the Park of the Monsters. This place offers exceptional breakfast, and it’s a real palazzo with a spectacular view of the Italian countryside.
Rustic Stone House with a Garden
One-Bedroom Pet-Friendly Apartment
Belvedere Alloggio Turistico offers free WiFi with a private seating area and a fireplace. This accommodation has a fully equipped kitchen with a coffee machine and an oven.
Visitor Experience and Practical Information
It costs €13 for adults and €8 for kids to gain admission to this park. They offer discounts for groups and school students. For group bookings, you need a minimum of 30 people to receive the discount. You can visit the park anywhere from 8:30 am to 7 pm. You have a couple of guided tours here that include:
- From Civitavecchia: the Dying City and Monster Park Tour
- Bomarzo Sacro Bosco and Viterbo 6 people
- Rome tour to Bomarzo Caprarola & Calcata
Tip #1 Wear Comfortable Footwear: You will walk a lot here.
Tip #2 I Don’t Recommend Public Transport: While you can reach Bomarzo Park by public transportation, I wouldn’t recommend it because it isn’t a comfortable ride.
Tip #3 Check out the Restaurant: The park has a restaurant inside that the Bettini family owns, but it only serves lunch.
Frequently Asked Questions about Park of the Monsters
What does “ogni pensiero vola” mean?
Engraved on one of the sculptures at the Park of the Monsters, it reads, “Every Thought Flies.” They say this because whenever you speak inside the park, the silence is so quiet that even in a whisper, people will hear you.
What does “Sacro Bosco” mean?
Sacro Bosco means, “Sacred Wood,” which makes sense since the original name of the Sacro Bosco di Bomarzo means the Sacred Woods of Bomarzo.