In 1938, Salvador Dalí visited the Parco dei Mostri di Bomarzo, also named the Garden of Bomarzo or ‘Sacro Bosco’, located in the province of Viterbo, in northern Lazio, Italy.
The park is a Mannerist monumental complex featuring sculptures, monuments and statues, Mannerism flourishing at the end of the Italian Renaissance around 1520.
It was designed by Prince Vicino Orsini and the architect Pirro Ligorio in 1552, who designed the fountains in Villa d’Este in the Tivolo gardens, when he worked as the Vatican papal architect.
Dalí shot a short film at the park and later the figures and trees were to inspire his 1946 painting The Temptation of Saint Anthony. The park's name stems from the many larger-than-life sculptures, some sculpted in the bedrock, which populate this predominantly barren landscape on a woody hillside. The park is unique, with refined Italian style gardens and grotesque huge stone sculptures of creatures, elephants and monsters. One can understand why Dalí, coming from a Surrealist perspective, appreciated the uniqueness and oddness of this park.
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the park became overgrown and neglected, but in the 1970s a program of restoration was implemented by the Bettini family, and today the garden, which remains private property, is a major tourist attraction, four hundred years after its creation.
The park of Bomarzo was intended not to please, but to astonish, and like many Mannerist works of art, its symbolism is arcan and enigmatic. Examples are a large sculpture of one of Hannibal's war elephants, which mangles a Roman legionary, or the statue of Ceres lounging on the bare ground, with a mossy bush perched on her head.
The many monstrous statues appear to be unconnected to any rational plan and appear to have been strewn almost randomly about the area, sol per sfogare il Core ("just to set the heart free") as one inscription in an obelisks proclaims.
The reason for the layout and design of the garden is largely unknown, perhaps they were meant as a foil to the perfect symmetry and layout of the great Renaissance gardens nearby at Villa Farnese and Villa Lante.
The gardens provide a perfect day trip, an escape from the heat and chaos of Rome, only 80 kilometers away.