What do you do if you don’t become Pope? Five times! You build a the Villa d’Este gardens of course, channeling all your frustrations into making one of the world’s best gardens and creating a wonder of Italy. That was Cardinal Ippolito d’Este’s solution anyway after his last papal disappointment in 1550 to his death in 1572.
His mother was the notorious Lucrezia Borgia, his grandfather was Pope Alexander VI, and he was appointed Governor of Tivoli and given an existing villa as a sop to not becoming Pope. Ippolito decided to make his own heaven on earth at the Villa d’Este. On the hillside site, he built a theater of water where fountains act like stages for the water to leap and perform. There are 64 waterfalls, falling into 220 basins, with 319 spouts, 364 jets fed by 51 pumps and 2870 feet (875 meters) of canals. There are nymphs, grottoes, staircases, and little surprises hidden around corners.
Not surprisingly, the gardens became an inspiration for water gardens across Europe and they’re still mighty impressive today, nearly five hundred years later. From the mid-18th to mid-19th centuries the gardens fell into disrepair but then a German Cardinal, Gustav von Hohelohe, whose ambitions were also frustrated by the Vatican hierarchy, took the villa and brought it back to grandeur. In the 1920s, the Italian State opened the villa to the public and today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. And it’s not just the gardens; the villa itself is impressive – Ippolito renovated it to create grand apartments for himself and wonderful vistas over his fantasy gardens.