Garden of Ninfa: An ancient gem of romantic beauty in Italy

In this travel photography blog post I’ll tell you of the Garden of Ninfa, the most beautiful and romantic garden in the world. Don’t you believe me? Well, read on and see what this wonder of central Italy enshrines.

Before I start to narrate the story and the peculiarities of this place, I’d like to show you a video, entirely shot and edited by me, that I hope can convey the magical atmosphere and the timeless beauty of the Garden of Ninfa.

 

Well, if the video has made you want to know more, let’s start saying that, what in the present time is a garden, in the past was a real town, an ancient and important one. Its birth dates back to the Roman era but, of the last two thousand years, the Medieval period embraces the crucial events which determined the fate of the ancient town.

A bit of history about the Garden of Ninfa:

During the eleventh century Ninfa was a prosperous town, in virtue of the proximity of the Appian Way: it boasted many important structures, such as hospices, a castle and as many as seven churches, besides the town hall, everything enclosed in surrounding walls, enforced with guard towers. The highest tower of the main castle was a tangible symbol of power of the Caetani family, an eminent name in Rome that had a direct connection with pope Bonifacio VIII. A unique peculiarity of Ninfa is related to its churches, which were named by pope Alessandro III as the important churches and basilicas of Rome.
In that period the town of Ninfa became so relevant that pope Alessandro III has been crowned there; unfortunately, from that moment on, it suffered of a grievous destiny, due to serious disputes between papal families, to the point that it has been eventually burned to the ground. To make the things worse, the only attempt by the last inhabitants to keep living in what remained of Ninfa has been spoiled by the widening of the near pontine marshes, which caused the outbreak of malaria.

Fast forward to the modern era, we can see that malaria has been eradicated at last, thanks to the reclamation of the marshes: in the first half of the twentieth century, before the second world war, Mussolini undertook the “bonifica integrale”, a massive project which radically altered the appearance of the Agro Pontino. The use of DDT and the insertion of an exotic species of fish that eats mosquito larvae got the better on the disease (even if with heavy side effects in the form of pollution and ecosystem’s equilibrium state). The landscape visually changed: the extensive insertion of Eucalyptus trees helped to reduce drastically the water in excess, thanks to their high draining capability (the biggest trees absorb up to a whopping 200 hundred liters a day!) and furthermore they act as an effective windbreak. Leaving out the ignominious and dreadful damages and consequences left by the second world war, we can now take for granted that the Agro Pontino is a safe and fertile plain.

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Horti Nympharum – The gate that leads to the Hortus Conclusus, an inner area inside the Garden of Ninfa

EXIF informations

Camera: Pentax K-3
Lens: HD DA 20-40mm F2.8-4 Limited DC WR
Focal lenght: 29mm
Shutter time: 1/50s
Aperture: F/7.1
Sensitivity: ISO200

 

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Bell tower – The remains of the bell tower of one of the seven churches in the Garden of Ninfa

EXIF informations

Camera: Pentax K-3
Lens: HD DA 20-40mm F2.8-4 Limited DC WR
Focal lenght: 23mm
Shutter time: 1/400s
Aperture: F/3.5
Sensitivity: ISO100

 

Discovering the wonders of the Garden of Ninfa:

After two thousand years, Ninfa couldn’t be more different than it was in the past, but in a positive way, luckily: since the first half of the twentieth century, the last heirs of the Caetani noble family have put all their efforts to transform the remains of an ancient town in a wonderful garden.
The Garden of Ninfa has many unique peculiarities: the Caetani family imported from all over the world numerous species of plants, from the many varieties of roses to japanese maple and cherry trees, to avocado and bamboo. There are more than 1500 species which grow lush, thanks to the perfect microclimate originated by the favorable position of the area, at the foot of the Lepini mountains and not too distant from the sea.
In spring the entire garden is an unbelievable blaze of colors: every path, every corner, lawn and passage is full of beautiful kinds of flowers, bushes and trees. To an unfocused eye, the garden may seem cluttered, but every element has a well thought placement, as in the english gardens of the eighteenth century; that style of designing gardens featured elements like “belvedere”, bridges, small temples and often even replicas of ancient ruins. In this regard, the Garden of Ninfa could be the most genuine landscape garden, since the ruins are an essential part of it and they are truly authentic.
The organic and harmonious fusion between the remains of ancient walls, towers and bridges and the many types and shapes of plants, creates an awe-inspiring atmosphere, a unique journey into a timeless beauty, an incomparable experience. This is why the Garden of Ninfa is considered one of the most romantic gardens in the world.

Strolling in the garden is an endless delight: you’ll be astounded by the view of a bell tower that stands out against the trees. Taking the adorned brick path that crosses a broad lawn, abound with vibrant multicolored flowers and bushes, you’ll come across another fascinating place: there, a gorgeous sight of an ancient bridge which crosses the calm river Ninfa, emerald colored by the underwater plants, will make you wish to stop and enjoy a little bit more the beautiful tranquility of that little corner of paradise.
One of the most breathtaking moment of visiting the Garden of Ninfa is reaching the remains of the castle: the majestic structure has completely lost its roof, so the sun enlightens the inner spaces; just walking through the rooms is an exciting experience because a soft green grass has replaced the floor and, if you look upward, you’ll see the windows of the upper floor decorated with sinuous creepers which open a glimpse of a blue sky.
I could go on with the depiction of the wonders of the Garden of Ninfa, but I hope you will have the chance to live in person this amazing experience and enjoy with your own senses the pleasure of discovering one of the most romantic and enchanting gardens in the world.

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Forgotten heaven – The placid river Ninfa flows under an ancient bridge, in the Garden of Ninfa

EXIF informations

Camera: Pentax K-3
Lens: HD DA 20-40mm F2.8-4 Limited DC WR
Focal lenght: 40mm
Shutter time: 1/50s
Aperture: F/6.3
Sensitivity: ISO200

 

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The river of time – A glimpse on the timeless atmosphere of the Garden of Ninfa, Italy

EXIF informations

Camera: Pentax K-3
Lens: HD DA 20-40mm F2.8-4 Limited DC WR
Focal lenght: 20mm
Shutter time: 1/30s
Aperture: F/5.6
Sensitivity: ISO200

 

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Blooming life – Lilac Wisteria hangs over the crystal clear river, emerald colored by the many underwater plants

EXIF informations

Camera: Pentax K-3
Lens: HD DA 20-40mm F2.8-4 Limited DC WR
Focal lenght: 20mm
Shutter time: 1/25s
Aperture: F/5
Sensitivity: ISO200

 

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White Wisteria house – A beautiful white Wisteria is enveloping an ancient house in the Garden of Ninfa

EXIF informations

Camera: Pentax K-3
Lens: HD DA 20-40mm F2.8-4 Limited DC WR
Focal lenght: 40mm
Shutter time: 1/40
Aperture: F/7.1
Sensitivity: ISO100

 

Some practical informations about the Garden of Ninfa:

If you plan to visit the Garden of Ninfa, you have to know that there are one or two complications to deal with:
Due to the delicate ecosystem, the garden opens just a few days a year: for example, from April to November 2017, there are just 26 days available and the visits are run as limited time (1 hour) guided tours. As a result it’s often sold-out, so I strongly recommend you to book your visit in advance on the dedicated web page (italian language only) and not to waste time once you’re in… You’ll probably be pulled by your group’s tourist guide and pushed at the same time by the following group’s one. For more informations, just have a look of the official page of the Caetani foundation.
Getting there is quite tricky if you don’t have a car: from Rome, you’ll need to take the train at Termini Station (Rome’s main station) to Cisterna di Latina and then hop on a shuttle that will take you to the garden. Be aware that in Italy, most of the times, the transports don’t respect the timetables, so get out early!
By car is easier and it will take about 90 minutes from Rome’s center; just follow the route on Google Maps.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the reading, the video “trailer” and the photos and I wish you to experience the emotions of discovering the wonderful Garden of Ninfa. If you need more informations or if you want to comment, just drop a line down below in the comment section.

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The lord of the garden – The remains of the main castle of the Garden of Ninfa, with its central tower.

EXIF informations

Camera: Pentax K-3
Lens: HD DA 20-40mm F2.8-4 Limited DC WR
Focal lenght: 20mm
Shutter time: 1/100s
Aperture: F/7.1
Sensitivity: ISO100

 

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Mirror of lifeblood – The castle tower, mirrored on the water basin that feeds the Garden of Ninfa

EXIF informations

Camera: Pentax K-3
Lens: HD DA 20-40mm F2.8-4 Limited DC WR
Focal lenght: 20mm
Shutter time: 55s
Aperture: F/8
Sensitivity: ISO100

About Claudio Beffa

I'm an Italian photographer and designer with a great passion for the discovery of amazing places and their history and soul. With phoclab.com, I'll tell you every step of my journey and I'll show you my best travel & landscape shots.

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Comments

  1. Shem says:

    Thanks for the great insight about this garden. I am a horticulturist and my team are planning a visit to Ninfa to gain inspiration for the ruins that are present at our garden.

    • Hello Shem and thank you so much for reading the article. I Hope you’ll find inspiration visiting the garden, it really seems a fairy-tale place and, at the same time, it keeps hundreds years of history in its alleys and ruins. I suggest you to book the first visit in the morning or one of the last two visits in the afternoon, the light is just gorgeous in spring 😉

  2. Carol says:

    I fell in love with this place after seeing it on “Monty Don’s Italian Gatdens.” He calls it the most romantic, and possibly the most beautiful, garden in the world. I, also, never been so moved by any other garden. Your photographs come as close as possible to capturing its true essence. What a gift!

    • Hello Carol, I feel honored to read your kind comment and I’m so happy to know that I’ve managed to instill through my photos the love and wonderment I felt when I visited this garden. I’ve been amazed by the beauty and the atmosphere of the Garden of Ninfa at first sight; from that moment on, I try to visit the garden everytime I have the chance.
      Thank you 🙂

  3. S.Stephen says:

    Claudio, thank you for the video and the information. I have just moved to a home 27 minutes from the Caetania home in Vernon British Columbia Canada. And am so intrigued with their story. This add depths to all we know from this side of the world. I shall send you a link to the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Company) audio story which includes parts the voice of theIr daughter Sveve. This is the link from April 30th, Yesterday’s, local newspaper site where I found the interesting story with the heading “25 years of self isolation” We too are experiencing lockdown in Canada at this time.
    https://www.castanet.net/news/Vernon/298734/Coldstream-author-pens-story-of-Caetani-family-s-25-year-isolation
    Link to the CBC audio story
    https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thesundayedition/the-sunday-edition-for-january-26-2020-1.5429251/a-century-before-meghan-and-harry-this-italian-noble-family-sought-refuge-in-b-c-and-stayed-1.5429252

    Thank you for the video etc.

    • Hi, Stephen, thanks a lot for your contribution and for the sources you’ve linked. I didn’t know about the branch of the Caetani family who moved to Canada and finding out their story of self isolation right during our global quarantine is quite an interesting coincidence!
      So, the duke Caetani who died in Vancouver in 1935 was Leone, whose wife was Vittoria Colonna and whith whom he had a son, Onorato (same name of Leone’s father). After breaking with Vittoria Colonna, Leone had a daughter with Ofelia Zanoni Fabiani, Sveva. The reasons of their self isolation are obscure to me… Anyway, duke Leone Caetani was one of the many sons of Onorato Caetani and Ada Wilbraham; his brother Gelasio prepared the base of the actual Garden of Ninfa, while the other brother Roffredo with his wife Marguerite Chapin continued to work on it, giving to the garden the shape and the variety of plants it has nowadays. Their daughter Lelia has been the last heir and, as a gardener and painter, took care of Ninfa in an unparalleled way (she was so forward-thinking that she didn’t use chemicals, in favor of natural solutions like ladybugs); moreover she established the Roffredo Caetani Foundation, to preserve the garden and the memory of the family.

      If you want to know, have a look at the following links:
      Leone Caetani: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leone_Caetani
      Roffredo Caetani: frcaetani.it/en/roffredo-caetani/
      Origins of the ancient Caetani family: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caetani

      I hope I’ve been useful and I wish you to visit the garden in the future.
      Thank you again and take care 🙂

  4. Lady of the Woods says:

    Sir Claudio, I just had to write, after weeks of listening to this music by Wong Wing Tsan, and watching your video of my favorite, most enchanted garden I have ever seen (on film only), and how exquisitely you captured it. The music could not be more perfect. I have been on a journey of appreciation by this artist as I find his music to be from the heart, and therefore uplifting, soothing, and as warm as a hug from a loved one with sweeping gestures of affection.
    As a gardener and visionary for a Garden Planet, my search for beauty is as I breathe, always present. I thought to watch anything else you may have uploaded but there is only this one and that says alot. I do not think anything can top this. I have to thank you for both the soul stirring visuals and the music you chose. I have not yet had enough of watching/listening to this one. Thank you! Most exquisite!

    • Hello, I’m really glad that you’ve appreciated the video of the Garden of Ninfa so much; I’m always happy if my works can resonate with the viewer’s feelings because I put into them my passion and my heart.
      My Youtube channel is so scarce in contents because I’m mostly a photographer; to say the truth this video has been an extemporaneous project, to enrich the blog post and complete the photographic part. Unfortunately I don’t have enough resources to focus on videomaking but, when I’ll have again the chance to improvise a video like this, I’ll surely publish it on the channel if it will be nice enough 😉
      Thank you again for your kind comment!
      Best wishes
      Claudio

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