The Monumental Gardens of Valsanzibio
At times, its jurisdiction extended all along Dalmatia, further into Northern Italy and across many Mediterranean and Aegean islands, including Cyprus, Corfu and Crete.
The rich merchant of Venice did not owe properties just in the city, but they spread their wealth all over the territory of the Republic.
This has turned the Veneto into a region with a thousand different faces, custodian of natural, artistic, and traditional treasures.
I always stress that you should not come over to Venice only for a couple of days and this another reason why: Venice is not just the city itself! We have got so much more to offer on the Veneto region!
“The little Versailles” of the Colli Euganei
Today I would like to talk to you about an amazing treasure, which many tourists totally overlook and miss out on: The monumental Park Garden Barbarigo-Pizzoni Ardemani in Valsanzibio in the Euganean Hills, one of the most important and refined examples of Giardino all’Italiana, aka Italian Garden.
It is an astonishing universe of fountains, pools and architectural landscape episodes that welcomes visitors in the green Colli Euganei, the amazing group of hills of volcanic origin that rise to heights of 300 to 600 m from the Padua-Venetian plain a few km south of Padua.
Its spectacular view inspired the architect of Versailles André Le Notre when, in 1679, he came to Italy, as a guest of Antonio Barbarigo.
For this reason the garden of Valsanzibio is called “The little Versailles” and it was named the most beautiful garden in Italy in 2003 and the third most beautiful in Europe in 2007.
The current garden is the work of the Venetian Zuane Francesco Barbarigo, who, inspired by his son, Cardinal Gregorio (a future Saint), in the mid-seventeenth century expanded the existing structure to make it a monumental path, leading from darkness to light, from ignorance to revelation.
VALSANZIBIO IN NUMBERS
The Garden covers an area of 150,000 square meters, geometrically marked by 60,000 square meters of expertly pruned boxwood.
It is furnished with 70 white marble statues, 4 fishponds, and 16 fountains.
The famous maze develops in 1,5 kilometre path for 10,000 square meters of boxwood.
The Garden also boasts 800 plants of 76 different essences including the Libocedro Decurrens and the Cedar of Lebanon, as well as countless shrubs of even rare varieties.
VALSANZIBIO: A SOLEMN PLEDGE
The oasis of Valsanzibio was brought to its present splendour in the second half of the seventeenth century by the Venetian Cardinal – and future saint – Gregorio Barbarigo.
The villa appears swallowed up by the majesty of the surrounding garden. Over seventy statues alternate with fountains, waterfalls and ponds, among tree species from all over the planet.
The beauty of the park lies not only in the fascinating water games, but also in the symbolic path that connects each element of the garden.
Valsanzibio took form following the solemn vow of Zuane Francesco Barbarigo. In 1631 the Venetian nobleman took refuge in Valsanzebio with his children to escape the contagion of the black plague that raged throughout Europe and that had killed his wife.
On this occasion, Zuane Francesco promised that, if the rest of the family would be spared by the illness, he would build a magnificent building as homage to God.
The eldest son Gregorio, who commissioned a garden to be the bearer of a spiritual message, made the vow. In 1665 the architect of the Pope, Luigi Bernini, brother of the more famous Gian Lorenzo, was called in to give life to a very ambitious project.
THE MEANING BEHIND THE GARDEN
The garden of Valsanzibio outlines the way of perfection, which leads man from error to revelation.
The itinerary starts from the Diana Pavilion, the monumental entrance where once there was the landing of the boats arriving through the fishing valley of Santo Eusebio (from which the name Valsanzibio). Once it extended to the whole plain, today only a small body of water remains.
The Portal of Diana is not only the main entrance to the estate via water, but the beginning of the saving path.
Fountains, bas-reliefs and statues dominated by Diana-Luna, the goddess responsible for nature and wild animals, as well as for changes and wonders, significantly enrich Diana’s Pavilion.
Crossing the solemn entrance, you skirt along the Bagno di Diana, where you can encounter black and white swans, which, together with the fish, populate these pools and the Peschiera dei Venti. Between the two fish pools, there is the Fountain of Iris with four crossed jets creating a spectacular rainbow.
The Pila Fountain leads into the Gran Viale, which, with all its statues, fountains and water games, leads to the Lonze staircase. Thus you reach the square of the Villa, where eight allegorical figures crown the Fontana dell’Estasi, the final destination of the symbolic itinerary. This path is lined and supported by the famous Boxwood Labyrinth, the Rabbits Island and the Statue of Time.
LET’S WALK THE ALLEGORICAL PATH
The mystical itinerary starts from the Padiglione di Diana, where you can admire the ‘Decumano’, the avenue of the Fisheries, perpendicular to the ‘Cardo’ and flanked by espaliers of Buxus sempervirens, and the Calle Veneziana, a tight alley that reproduces a Venetian calletta with walls composed of backs of Buxus sempervirens.
The journey to revelation begins by walking along the Fish pond called Bagno di Diana or Peschiera dei Fiumi (Fishery of the Rivers), fed by the jars of two recumbent river gods, that probably impersonate two large watercourses in the Po Valley area, the Bacchiglione, a quiet river, but also unpredictable and the Brenta.
Here, the crystal-clear, pure water of the rivers is in contrast with the stagnant, turbid and “dirty” water of the freshly left swamp … let us abandon the sin to begin the purification. Initially, it is a passive purification where the crystalline and pure water of the rivers begins an allegorical washing of our soul.
You will then came across the Fountain of Iris, which, thanks to the intersection of four jets, reveals a rainbow.
Walk along the Peschiera dei Venti, Wind Fishery, and you will end up at the Fontana della Pila, of octagonal shape like the baptismal fonts.
THE GRAN VIALE OF VALSANZIBIO
From the Pila Fountain there is a wonderful view of the Gran Viale that leads to the Villa, while on the opposite side there is the Boxwood Labyrinth, the oldest and most extensive in existence today.
If you head left, you will go to the boxwood labyrinth, which represents the allegory of life, littered with choices and tests to overcome.
THE LABYRINTH OF VALSANZIBIO
The labyrinth symbolizes the road to expiation: as you cross it, you must overcome the seven dead ends, much like the deadly sins. Taking the shortest, but wrong path, it looks like you are cutting the way, but in fact it lengthens the path and forces you to retrace your steps. It is the longest road that leads to the raised tower, in the centre, from which you can see the whole path you travelled and come to understand the meaning of your existence.
The maze is really big and well built. It is not easy to find the exit and the very narrow paths with tall hedges make you feel lost. To increase the scenic effect, I suggest you avoid visiting during the busiest days when there are so many people in the maze, creating real queues and making it easier to find the exit.
But do not worry to much, there is a lady standing on top of the central tower, indicating the right path, if you get irredeemably lost!
Once out of the labyrinth you find yourself at the Eremita Grotto, a stage dedicated to meditation, created as a place to take a break to reflect on the test you just passed.
Now you are ready to take the Gran Viale again – this time turn right!
THE ISLAND OF THE RABBITS
On the Gran Viale you will find on your left the Isola dei Conigli and on your right the Monument to Time, depicted by an old man with wings: it symbolizes eternity, the human spirit going beyond the limits of space and time to reach perfection.
The Isola dei Conigli, the Island of rabbits, represents the physical limits of human life: space and time. However, these can be overcome thanks to the procreation and continuation of life, clearly represented by the rabbits that populate the island. And which, I must admit, are terribly cute too!
THE END OF THE JOURNEY
Once again on the large avenue, the attention of the “pilgrim” is captured by irreverent games of water, the Fontana del Putto e Scherzi D’acqua. The water displays, much loved by adults and children, are located on some inviting benches, actually hiding splashes of water, which will activate hitting the victim. In addition to being very funny, they also hide a deep meaning: we must not stop and rest after a long journey when the destination is near; the last effort is necessary to reach the finish line and be rewarded here for the efforts made throughout the journey.
You will reach the Scalinata delle Lonze (the Lonze Staircase), on which is engraved a sonnet with the meaning of the garden: the paradise you can admire around is the work of nature and not of man; far from disputes, worries and problems, we can finally admire the beauty that surrounds us and really appreciate it, as if we were seeing it for the first time.
Once past the Lonze staircase, you reach the square of the Villa, where eight allegorical statues, representing the prerogatives of the Garden and its Lord, circumscribe the Fountain of Revelation, the final destination of a journey full of charm, metaphors and mystery.
The “Piazzale delle Rivelazioni” opens up over the steps, in front of Villa Barbarigo. Today it is closed by a gate that does not prevent you, though, from admiring the “Fountain of Ecstasy”, crowned by the statues representing Rest, Virtue or Agriculture, Power or Genius and Wisdom or Loneliness; if we overlooked from the balconies of the villa we would see Adonis or Beauty, Abundance with the cornucopia, the Beloved and Joy; they are the privileges of the master and the gifts offered to him by the garden.
At the end of our journey we are finally ready to fully enjoy the essences, the play of light from the rays that filter through the leaves of ancient trees and colour the air with light rainbows; we are finally ready to seize the gifts that the garden of Villa Barbarigo has in store for us, owners, for a day, of such beauty.
Once you have explored the garden, far and wide, you can rest near the Stables where there is a small refreshment area with some benches and a small shop open only on holidays. A little further on there is also a nice picnic area.
CURIOSITY ABOUT THE GARDEN VALSANZIBIO
Did you know that the Garden of Valsanzibio in 2004 was the setting for some scene of the movie The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino and Jeremy irons? And the Valsanzibio labyrinth was also the background for a video the famous Italian band Negrita?
INFORMATION AND TICKET PRICE
The garden is open every day from 23 February 2019 till 8th December 2019, from 10.00 am to 1.00 pm and from 2.00 pm to sunset (Sundays and holidays non-stop opening times).
Adult = € 11.00
Adult in group (20+ people) = € 9.00
Children up to 14 years = € 6.50
Guided tours are available upon request.
For more information: www.valsanzibiogiardino.it
Valsazibio, located in Galzignano Terme, is right smack in the middle of the Colli Euganei.
If you want to enjoy a day of wine and food discovering the Euganean Hills, why don’t you take a Wine and Food tour of Veneto with a Sommelier and a Chef, with your own private driven car?
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