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Villa Borghese Gardens

July 27th, 2007

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You can’t find anyplace in the heart of Rome that feels more like open countryside than the Borghese Gardens. The family lands of the wealthy Borghese clan begin two blocks from the top of the Spanish Steps, and cover an area of more than five kilometers in circumference. You’ll find formal gardens, museums, ponds, wild forest trails, and stone paths along which long walks connect you to Rome’s rich garden history. The gardens were made public in 1902, and have since drawn modern Roman’s from around this large and frenetic city to a place of peace and sanctuary. To escape the never-ending stream of tourists clogging Rome’s streets, you can easily make Borghese Gardens a destination for lunch or a few hours rest, let the kids run amok in this great recreation park, rent a bicycle, stroll through the forests, or people watch.

villa borghese_3The plateau on which the gardens begin overlooks the Piazza del Popolo, its Egyptian obelisk a centerpiece of more tourist activity. But up here, above that fast pace, you’ll find benches beneath high trees, a children’s carousel, lunch kiosks, and a café. The city sounds drift in, but you’ve left behind the ant-colony feeling. You can rent a four-wheeled bicycle pedal car to get deep into the park, or walk over to the low wall that overlooks a highway far below that cuts through the park.

A definitive peace sets in when you cross the bridge leading into the expanding area of the park. Cut left, through the trees, and head down towards the pond. If it’s spring, flowering trees light the landscape with youth and color. If you stay on this route and arc left, you’ll walk through a pine forest along a hill and then up, onto a meadow and through paths towards the National Museum of Villa Giulia.

villa borghese_6Auto traffic roads have been cut through Borghese Gardens, but this is just part of the modern city landscape needing to move from point A to point B. You needn’t bother yourself with this other than keeping heads up as you cross from one side to the other. Nevertheless, you’ve come deeper into the park, and behind walls through which a gate gives access, you’ll find a once very private and intimate section of the Borghese family estate. An unusual sculpture celebrating wine forms the topmost part of a fountain. Further in, a reflecting pool overlooks a temple to a Roman god. Today this large pond has a boathouse where you can rent a rowboat for a lazy paddle through all the ducks and other water birds living on its protected banks.

Paths lead to wide boulevards, the boulevards back to winding walkways. An outdoor playhouse, built to resemble Shakespeare’s Globe theater, has summer programs. Near the park’s northern perimeter is the Gallery of Modern Art, where worldwide exhibitions show beside the gallery’s huge collection. Finally, a zoo fits well into this sanctuary, in the northwest corner of the park.

(read more about Villa Borghese Gardens highlights here

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