Bomarzo, the World’s Oldest Theme Park?

What do St Peter’s Basilica, Villa D’Este in Tivoli, and Bomarzo Sacred Wood have in common? Each was completed by the architect Pirro Ligorio.

This famous figure, following in the steps of Michelangelo, adopted the ‘Mannerist’ approach of elongated proportions, highly stylized poses, and in some cases a lack of clear perspective.

In about 1547, Prince Pierfrancesco (Vicino) Orsini commissioned Ligorio to design a ‘Sacred Wood’– a forest of ‘marvels’ in the forest below the family palace in Bomarzo, a town now only known for the heritage of this member of the Orsini families.

The result, in 1552, was a park with over 30 stone sculptures definitely mannerist, as limbs and torso lack proportion except in sensuality. Giants, gods and ogres abound with Animalia in the position of denomination.

What the hidden objective was is lost in the mists of time, but sacred in the religious meaning it was not. Maybe it held a personal meaning in the love between Vicino and his wife, Giulia Farnese, particularly in the more remote temple of love in the upper area of the park, as Vicino dedicated it to her on her death in about 1560, and appears to have visited it no more, though his villa still stands in Bomarzo.

The sacred wood of Bomarzo lay dormant for four centuries until the Bettini family acquired the grounds and patiently set about uncovering the fabulous statues. Now the park is known as Parco dei Mostri, Park of Monsters, a theme park name to attract the young, but a name which is highly probably the opposite of its original role.

The trees are magnificent, the statues appearing out of the dappled shade, hide partly immersed in the hillside, stand proud in the sunny fields or are washed by the torrent.

Bomarzo? It is off the SP20 from the A1 at Attigliano towards Viterbo, and the park lies to the right just before and below the town.