Back at the beginning of April we were invited by our English friends, Clive and Marilyn from Gaeta, to accompany them on a visit to the Gardens of Ninfa. This was a place that I had longed to visit for some time, so we didn’t hesitate to accept their kind offer.
We arrived at Ninfa, at the foot of the Lepini Mountains, at around 10 am and to my surprise there were a number of people already there, queuing to purchase entrance tickets, and for the first guided tour of the day. Our Guide was very knowledgeable about the history of Ninfa but only spoke in Italian.
It seems that during the Medieval era, Ninfa was a thriving town, sited along the Via Pedemontana which linked Rome with Naples. Over the years the main route, the Roman road the Via Appia, had become impassable through the marshy Pontine wetlands. At Ninfa a toll gate was instigated which brought the town significant prosperity.
At the end of the 1200’s Pope Boniface VIII purchased the town, and made a gift of it to his nephew. Under the rule of the Caetani family the town prospered and expanded, with the construction of a castle, several churches, a town hall, bridges and numerous dwellings, which were all fortified by a double town wall.
However turbulent times were to follow with the rise to power of the French King Philip IV, who sought to raise money to finance his wars by taxing the clergy. Pope Boniface issued a decree claiming total papal supremacy, indicating that kings were subordinate to the power of the Church. A long political battle ensued, however Philip was eventually the victor, Pope Boniface was arrested and a new French Pope was installed in his place. This consequently lead to a huge split within the Catholic church and even within the members of the Caetani family itself. In 1382 two Caetani heirs began a feudal war against each other. Thus Ninfa came under repeated attacked until it was finally overrun and razed to the ground. The few remaining survivors were eventually to be driven out by the plague and by malaria which in those times infested the nearby Marshes.
It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that a descendant of the Caetani family rediscovered Ninfa and began to drain the site, and subsequently over three generations, it was transformed into a beautiful romantic English style garden.
When the last descendant of the Caetani’s passed away, the garden was bequeathed to the Roffredo Caetani Foundation which now runs the site in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund. http://www.fondazionecaetani.org/index.php
Ninfa is an oasis of peace where a profusion of fragrant climbing roses, jasmine and honeysuckle scramble over the Medieval architectural remains.
Through the 21 acre estate runs the Ninfa River which at one point has been dammed to form a beautiful lake. A series of little cascades and watercourses have also been created to help maintain the lush greenery of this delicate eco-system. There are numerous varieties of flowering trees, shrubs and flowers, indeed the garden contains botanical specimens gathered from all over the world including: magnolias; wisterias; camellias; bamboo; hydrangeas; irises and lilies to name but a few.
The protected reserve provides a habitat rich in fauna as well as flora.
Near to the ancient castle is a wonderful long established grove of citrus fruit trees.
Countless picturesque vistas open up around each and every twist and turn of the meandering path which leads you through the garden. Through the course of the year the colours of the landscape gradually change as one season passes to another.
The Gardens can only be seen on a guided tour.
Note – The opening times are extremely limited and it closes for a couple of hours at lunchtime.
From April to October it is generally open on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month, and the third Sunday of April, May and June.
Times of opening are 0900 -1200 and 14.30 – 1800
except for July and August when the afternoon openings are from 1500 to 18.30.
After our tour of Ninfa we headed for the nearby Medieval hill-top town of Sermoneta.
Here Clive and Marilyn have a favourite little restaurant near the castle, curiously named “Ghost”.
Paul and I resolved to soon return to Sermoneta
to further explore this picturesque historic town.
For more information about this beautiful area of South Lazio
please take a look at our
All other photos by me © Louise Shapcott