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500 Fountains Draw Many to Ornate Villa d'Este

July 13, 1986|AL GOLDFARB | Goldfarb is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

TIVOLI, Italy — Devoid of cars and long lines of summer tourists, Tivoli provides a sharp contrast to a visit to nearby Rome. History buffs will turn back the pages of the past in this enchanting little town.

Only 20 miles east of the Eternal City, Tivoli is a one-time playground of wealthy Romans and emperors.

The town sits like a jewel in the Apennine foothills, featuring the impressive Villa d'Este with its dancing fountains that have enchanted visitors since the 16th Century.

Cardinal Ippolito d'Este made Tivoli prominent with his inventive genius. A grandson of Pope Alexander VI, the cardinal came to Tivoli in 1550 to accept the governorship of the town after failing in his bid to become a pope.

The cardinal created a magnificent villa to impress visitors, with a garden designed by architect Pirro Ligorio. His project provided a panoramic view and sparked new ideas of geometrical and architectural perspective for Italian-style gardens. Indeed, Villa d'Este was used as a model by other architects to project other great Roman and Florentine villas.

Water Flows Uphill

Meanwhile, the cardinal concentrated on designing and developing a water system that would impress even today's engineers. Water sprayed 40 to 50 feet skyward without the use of pumps or gadgets; this was accomplished by the use of gravity and the thrust of the Aniene River in such a way that it flowed uphill, then thundered down a slope into the garden, a 16th-Century miracle.

The most impressive feature developed by the cardinal was the Organ Fountain, designed to play a musical composition on a hydraulic organ.

Unfortunately, the music mechanism no longer works. Still, the fountain remains a chief attraction.

In addition, there is the Oval Fountain, where one strolls behind cascading water without getting drenched.

In another area, crowds gather at the stunning Avenue of 100 Fountains. Along the length of an ivy-covered terrace, tiers of jets spray the area with torrential streams and cascading falls.

Visitors are also drawn to the Fountain of Dragons by Ligorio, Bernini's Fountain of Glass, the Fountain of the Owl and Birds, the Dragons Fountain and others.

In all, there are about 500 fountains.

The villa is open in summer, Tuesdays through Sundays, 8 a.m.-11 p.m.; winter hours are 9 a.m. to one hour before sunset. It is closed on Monday. Admission is about $1.50 per adult (less for children).

Hadrian's Villa

Tivoli's other major attraction is the ruins of Hadrian's Villa Adriana on the outskirts of town.

Built by Emperor Hadrian in the 1st Century, the villa was one of the largest and richest of the Roman world. A man of great intellectual curiosity, Hadrian attempted to re-create architecturally all the beautiful places he'd admired in his travels.

From AD 118 to 130, architects and artists labored, spurred on periodically by the globe-trotting emperor returning home with new ideas, including the re-creation of an ancient Egyptian canal featuring columns and arches.

Waterfalls, ancient temples, countless fountains, grottoes and a delightful garden comprise the ruins of the villa. After the emperor's death the villa was destroyed by barbarians, with many of its effects being transferred to Villa d'Este.

Excavations of Hadrian's estate began in the 16th Century; priceless art objects are exhibited in the National Museum in Rome, the Vatican Museum and other museums in Europe. More recent discoveries are exhibited at the museum on the site. To date, a total of 261 items have been recovered.

Exquisite Waterfalls

There's more to see in Tivoli, including the Villa Gregoriano, built by Pope Gregory XVI in 1835, where the water of the Aniene River drops 500 feet to create a series of exquisite waterfalls. This parklike area, not nearly as crowded as the Villa d'Este, is an ideal place to enjoy a picnic lunch.

One can travel by bus from the Piazza della Republica to the estate, or reach it by car or train. Municipal buses can be boarded on via Gaeta off Piazza della Republica near the main rail station. Look for the coach marked Autobus for Tivoli.

For more information, write to the Italian Government Travel Office, 360 Post St., San Francisco, Calif. 94108.

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