The 17th century saw the death of ancient Ninfa, once sacred to water nymphs. Has she returned to those roots?
Earlier this week, we spoke of the tumultuous history of the Italian city of Ninfa. You can read that post here. She began as an agricultural community crowned by a temple dedicated to water nymphs and grew into an influential city on an important trade route near Rome. Becoming rich off of tolls and trade, she found herself embroiled in Papal politics, was sacked and burned, strangled by war, then at last fell victim to the power of the very water that made her rise possible. Flooding and malaria had the final word, or so it seemed.
The Caetani family, stewards and power brokers of Ninfa since 1298, held onto the property, but disease and violence had left a stain that had ruined the town’s reputation. It was not until 1921 that Gelasio Caetani began to realize his ancestor’s dream of making a garden here. He restored some of the old buildings, creating a summer residence. His mother, Lady Constance Adela Bootle-Wilbraham, or Ada for short, was the daughter of the Fourth Earl of Clarendon, having married Onorato Caetani, the Duke of Sermoneta, one of the (comparatively) new towns that had sprung up near the ruins of Ninfa. She had already created an English style garden at nearby Lake Fogliani. Ada helped her son plan a new garden at Ninfa, which he filled with water loving plants from his travels abroad.
The extreme humidity of the region, where it rains almost every afternoon, supports a surprising number of foreign species, including American Walnuts, yuccas, cedars, cherry trees, Himalayan and Mexican Pines, magnolia, tulip trees and bamboo. There are a huge variety of roses, both climbing and bush varieties, as well as wisteria, hydrangea, clematis and many other flowering plants and trees.
The park and gardens provide a sharp and welcome contrast to the industrialized areas near Rome. The World Wildlife Fund has set aside a few acres of the garden as a wildlife sanctuary, since the river Ninfa and its many springs lie along a busy migration route for birds between Europe and Africa. Teals, mallards, herons and raptors add to the romance of the place. The river and lake also support a large number of trout.
Painter Lelia Caetani and her husband, Hubert Howard, were the last owners here. They created the Roffredo Caetani Foundation , dedicated to the memory of her father, a noted composer, to manage Il Giardino de Ninfa and other Caetani family sites in the area. Under the guidance of the Foundation, the garden is open for guided tours on a set schedule. Wandering without a guide is prohibited.
We wouldn’t want to offend the water nymphs, would we?
Images © Fondazione Roffredo Caetani
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