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Monday, February 14, 2011

Gardens: Giardino d'Amore

Isola Bella was designed to look a bit like a large ship... can you see it?


Ah, l'amore... Because it's Valentine's Day, let's visit the Giardino d'Amore, the Garden of Love, at the Palazzo Borromeo on Isola Bella. This particular area is found on the fifth tier of the famous ten-tiered garden. If you have not visited the gardens yet then maybe a little background is in order. The Borromeo gardens are considered one of the finest examples of Italianate Baroque landscaping. What does this mean? As opposed to our modern concept of gardens and parks consisting of open lawns and terrains of natural hills, the idea in the 17th century was to create a completely manmade work of art from the earth. Therefore it was shaped, molded, dug out and piled up. Natural elements were used as materials, and plants were often kept trimmed and coerced into elaborate shapes. We still see some topiaries and planned gardens today, but back then, they ruled...

The first excavations were begun on the island in 1630 by Carlos Borromeo, continued by his sons Vitaliano VI Borromeo and Gilberto III, and the gardens were inaugurated in 1671. The original idea for the Borromeo garden was to reshape the entire island so that it would appear from a distance to be a grand ship on the lake. To this end the plans called for the construction of ten terraces, tiered like a wedding cake, supported with walls and balustrades, and the whole adorned with a multitude of statues, columns, and turrets. Wide open lawns were meant to be the flat decks of the ship. In this manner of terracing the garden was divided into several distinct areas, and wandering its stairways and niches turns up constant surprises.

The almost 400-year-old Giardino d'Amore as seen from above.

The Giardino d'Amore comprises the flat deck of terrace five. This garden is often viewed from up high, from the top of terrace ten, which gives an aerial view of the carved hedges and the geometric design, of the lily pools and the intertwining paths. When you walk through it you'll notice better the azalea beds and the citrus trees growing there. Look for the nymphs in their fountains and at how meticulously trimmed the boxwood beds are.


Looking up to the top of the tiers from the garden.

As for its name, love is one of the recurring themes that the Borromeos use. Looking back up from the Giardino d'Amore towards the highest point of the top tier, there is the large unicorn statue, the Borromeo family symbol, ridden by Love. Was the name of the garden the reason that Napolean and Josephine Bonaparte enjoyed this spot so much when they visited the palace in 1797? They were said to have shared some romantic encounters between the azaleas...


Napolean and Josephine may have been able to visit the garden whenever they wanted, but alas, the rest of us must wait until the Palace reopens for the 2011 season on 26 March. Then, I hope you have your own moment near the azaleas...

In the meantime, Buona Festa di San Valentino!


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