Villa d'Este History and Visitor Information
The Villa d'Este was commissioned and built by Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, the son of Lucrezia Borgia and the grandson of Pope Alexander VI. Pirro Ligorio worked 17 years designing the garden. Thomaso Chiruchi worked on the Hydrolics and Claude Venard, a Burgundian and a highly regarded manufacturer of hydraulic organs, also worked on the Villa d'Este's most spectacular achievement: the Fountain of the Hydraulic Organ (Fontana dell'Organo Idraulico). The cardinal only desired a villa and garden worthy of "one of the wealthiest ecclesiastics of the sixteenth century." The garden, like many other forms of art, is designed in a way to encourage exploration, stimulate imagination, and elicit surprise. You can explore here for hours, but remember that there are elevation changes that may make it strenuous to see everything.
Gardens and Waterworks
The Villa's gardens are a place one doesn't visit for the flowers. People are mainly amazed at the clever application of Renaissance plumbing in the fountains and waterworks, and how they are integrated with the landscape. There are around 500 fountains here. Many statues, some of the taken from nearby archaeological sites like Hadrian's Villa, complete the tableau. The gardens are the perfect illustration of Renaissance culture as expressed in the countryside. For the rest of Renaissance culture, as expressed in the city environment, you should plan a trip to Florence, of course.
How to Get to Tivoli
The Villa d'Este is located in the Piazza Trento, Viale delle Centro Fontane, in the Italian region of Lazio, just adjacent to the town of Tivoli, 20 miles east of Rome on the S5 road. A Renaissance gem, the villa is perhaps the finest example of mannerist residences in Europe. The Villa has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2001. A little further outside Tivoli is Hadrian's Villa. A local bus links the two major sites.
Most tourists do the Villa d'Este and Hadrian's Villa as a day trip from Rome. By car, take the S5 out of Rome to Tivoli. The Villa d'Este is on the western side of town. If you're staying in Rome, the easier way is to take a tour that combines the two destinations. Viator offers: Hadrian's Villa and Villa d'Este Half-Day Trip from Rome (book direct).
Tivoli does have a train station, which links to the Roma Tiburtina station. You can get a train on the Roma-Pescara Line from Rome's Tiburtina station to Tivoli. It takes about a half hour. Then you'll hop a shuttle bus to the town center and Villa d'Este.
Blue COTRAL buses leave the terminal at Rome's Ponte Mammolo stop on Metro line found for Tivoli every 15 minutes. It takes about an hour. There's a shuttle bus service from Tivoli main square to Hadrian's Villa. (Hadrian's Villa is not in Tivoli but on the plain below—a bus ride away.)
Tourist Office in Tivoli
The tourist office in Tivoli is located in the Piazza Garibaldi, close to the main bus stop and the Villa d'Este. You might be able to pick up maps and information even after closing.