Bomarzo is one of the best-kept secrets of central Italy where ancestral, esoteric and mysterious elements come together to reveal unique wonders capable of capturing and memorizing people from all around the world. The Park of Monsters created by Pier Francesco Orsini in the sixteenth century, and the Etruscan Pyramid, whose origins are still uncertain, are just two of the main attractions that constellate the beautiful surroundings of Bomarzo. This enchanting village, 90 kilometers from Rome and 20 from Viterbo, is a real jewel perched on a rocky spur, with its imposing castle, and set in hectares of woods and natural parks where ancestors of different eras have left their precious traces.
Bomarzo is the ideal destination for slow travel.
The Etruscan Pyramid of Bomarzo
The path leading to the Etruscan Pyramid is called the via cava: a narrow trail excavated by the ancients and similar to a canyon. All around are beech trees that dominate the woods of the Cimini Mountains and a triumph of botanical treasures that enrich the vegetation with multiform leaves; colored berries; mosses; and climbing ivy.
The oxygen emanating from the trees is intense and the smell is typical of the forest. When the Etruscan Pyramid appears before your eyes, it creates a great emotion. You need to stop awhile to admire it from the right distance to appreciate all its extraordinary beauty. It is a breathtaking experience.
But, although the name of this ancient boulder suggests the shape of a pyramid, it is actually immediately evident, that it is very different from a pyramid. Its particular shape makes it even more unique. For many archaeologists, it dates back to the Bronze Age, while other scholars attribute it to the Romans. However, in all likelihood, it was the Etruscans, an ancient civilization that lived in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany, western Umbria, and northern Lazio, who built it around the seventh century BC. The Etruscans carved this mysterious megalith from a huge boulder of peperino, a gray volcanic rock typical of the Cimini Mountains.
To get an idea of the size and majesty of this pyramid, just think that it measures about 16 meters (53 feet) in length; 7 meters (24 feet) at the widest point; and 9 meters (30 feet) in height. It has 28 steps, two minor altars, and a main altar on the rocky summit. The Etruscan Pyramid is one of the wonders of the world, immersed in an archaic and enigmatic site, also considered by some to be esoteric and spiritually magical.
The story you don’t expect about the discovery of the Etruscan Pyramid
The history of the Etruscan Pyramid does not differ much from many other treasures of the past which, obscured by dense forests and vegetation, are just waiting to be discovered and cleaned up. However, what is unique in this case is that the rebirth of this site is not due to scholars and archaeologists, but to a farmer with a passion for history.
He is Salvatore Fosci, a truly extraordinary character and almost mystical figure whom it is easy to come across when you set out in the woods of Bomarzo to discover the Etruscan Pyramid. Everyone knows Salvatore Fosci who for years, has been considered the natural guardian of this huge megalith and of the entire wooded area that surrounds it.
As early as the spring of 1991, two local archaeologists, Giovanni Lamoratta and Giuseppe Maiorano, had already come across this huge boulder with altars and steps which at first glance, resembled the Mayan pyramids discovered in the jungles of Belize and Mexico. But their discovery did not receive the deserved attention and it took another twenty years and Salvatore Fosci’s hard work to return this wonder to the world, attracting the full attention of society and the academic environment.
In 2008, he voluntarily worked to clean up this huge boulder from the dense vegetation and roots that had enveloped and swallowed it for centuries. He also worked hard and with machetes to open the path that leads to this suggestive site to the fruition of everyone.
This passionate historian claims to have been inspired by the stories of his grandfather and father who, for many years, worked in those woods, guarding them with care and respect. They called this pyramid Il Sasso del Predicatore (Preacher’s Rock), or simply Il Sasso con le scale (Rock with stairs), and they did not even remotely imagine its real importance.
You do not necessarily have to be a religious person to have an esoteric experience with the Pyramid. Just get closer, touch the stone, free your mind, activate your senses and breathe deeply. The ancestors will connect with you.
The Park of Monsters of Bomarzo
Mystery is the pre-eminent element that characterizes Bomarzo also thanks to one of the strangest parks in the world, called Parco dei Mostri, or Il Bosco Sacro (The Sacred Wood), and which extends at the foot of the town. The history behind this site is as uncertain as it is touching.
The Prince Pier Francesco Orsini, also known as Vicino, who lived in Bomarzo in the 16th century, wanted to create a mystical world to give refuge to his wounded soul and escape from the horror of the brutal war he fought following the papal troops. But he also wanted to create a Sacred Grove, as he used to call it, to consecrate it to the memory of his beloved wife Giulia Farnese, who prematurely died after 10 years of marriage. There is no wonder then if the monumental complex became an expression of scare and grief caused by the torments of life. Torments that he wanted to materialize in monster statues to have a tactile enemy to defeat. A way to exorcise his pain and grief.
The Prince planned everything in the span of 25 years. From 1560 and 1585 many gigantic stone monster sculptures were scattered in 3 hectares of wood, apparently without a rational location, perspective relationship, or coherence of dimensions. Probably aiming to confuse the visitors.
These sculptures realized in basalto, a stone of volcanic origin that was already in the wooded valley, transformed the forest into a wonderland park, where the Prince’s friends could come and get mesmerized by the almost illusory scenario. Each statue, carved from those huge blocks of stone, was turned into scary beasts, over-sized-mythological figures, dragons, sphinxes, sirens, monstrous fish-head, giants, or grotesque creatures in a seemingly senseless blend of mythology, allegory, and oddity.
The most famous monster is the mouth of Orcus, the god of the underworld. Its image is well known all around the world. An inscription around its lips says “Ogni pensiero vola” (Every thought flies).
The Leaning House
The most disorienting building is instead the leaning house, a dwelling built on top of sloping rock. As soon as you cross the threshold, you will be tricked by the perspective and by the sloping floor. You will lose your balance and feel dizzy for a while. A very strange sensory experience.
This bizarre garden was also designed as an initiatory journey, where visitors have to face many adversities in order to master the difficulties of life. The same path that Pier Francesco Orsini had to follow to overcome the tragedies of his life. Each monster represents his own personal demon, while the long steep staircase, leading to the Temple at the top of the garden, symbolizes the way to heaven. This octagonal Temple of Eternity, also known as Tempietto, is considered a memorial dedicated to his beloved Giulia.
Your Initiatory Journey in the Park of Monsters
What is the meaning behind each sculpture? What did Orsini want to communicate through his bizarre creation? The debate around this theme continues today among art history scholars.
But what if you forget any preconceived interpretation and find your own meaning? Sure, you can use the map provided at the entrance, follow the path suggested, and read the captions, but be also free to unleash your imagination and your perception. Let yourself be carried away by your own senses.
Have you ever met those monsters in your life? Does it remind you of a life experience you already faced? Have you ever fought that fear? Find in this Park of Monsters your initiatory journey. Face each demon of your soul, climb the stairs to your temple and meet yourself.
In your final destination, you will discover who you really are. If you are in search of your ancestors or just on a search for yourself, Bomarzo is the ideal destination to experience it all. A destination not to be missed.
More to see:
- Saint Cecilia Necropolis
- Finestraccia (Ugly Window)
- Pasolini’s Tower
- Natural Reserve of Monte Casoli