A real-life secret garden on Rome’s Palatine Hill, the legendary Farnese Gardens, has officially been reopened to the public for an exhibition.

The Orti Farnesiani sul Palatino, or “Gardens of Farnese upon the Palatine,” were created in 1550. They were built by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese just to the north of the Roman Forum. The very first private botanical gardens in Europe, they were a display of the Farnese family’s power in Rome.

Farnese Gardens, Rome
A view of Rome’s Farnese Gardens from the Roman Forum and the north

They were filled with frescoed aviaries, a nymphaeum, underground passageways, ancient sculptures, and fountains. Rare and exotic birds paraded through its grounds, where a renovated Roman villa stood proudly. They were a place where the “cultures of the ancient and Renaissance world met,” according to Giuseppe Morganti, who curated the new exhibition.

By the 1700s, the gardens fell into disrepair in the. However, they saw a resurgence of popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries, are people visited Rome on ‘Grand Tours’.

Farnese Gardens, Rome secret garden
The Farnese Gardens as they looked in the 1800s
Restored Secret Garden Welcomes Visitors

The restoration was carried out by the Archaeological Park of the Colosseum. It was in collaboration with the Ministry for Goods, Cultural Activities and Tourism, and the World Monuments Fund.

After years of work, the revamped gardens have been largely replanted. They feature laurels, cypresses, yews, citrus trees, climbing plants, and Damascus roses that recapture its original splendor. Two spectacular marble statues, The Kneeling Barbarian and Iside Fortuna, have also been temporarily returned to the gardens from the Farnese Collection in Naples.

Farnese Gardens, Rome
The lush Farnese Gardens as seen from the south

The new exhibition, titled “The Palatine and its secret garden: In the charms of the Farnese Gardens,” is a multimedia experience. It has features like video maps that show what the original layout would have looked like.

The exhibition runs from 21 March to 28 October of 2018 and can be accessed used the ticket for the Roman Forum.

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