Villa d’Este: Live from the Water Organ in the Gardens at Tivoli

The legendary Renaissance gardens of the Villa d’Este, arguably the most important in Italy

The famous fountains and gardens of Italy’s Villa d’Este made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Water Organ Fountain above the magnificent Fountain of Neptune entranced Villa D’Este’s residents and visitors in the early 17th century, as it does today. Tony and Helen brave the crowds to bring you a taste of the experience! tweet

“Well here we are at the Villa D’Este – if you can hear me above the water – and we’re actually not coming to see what you’re looking at, which is the main garden, but we’ve come to the Neptune Fountain (Ed: actually it’s the Water Organ Fountain), behind me, which is supposed to be switched on at 12:30.

But Beware Marauding Tourists

However, we’re not the only ones here. As you can see, there’s a large contingent of tourists and Italian grannies who have basically taken over the fountain itself. Er, we’ve also got a few Russians around. But anyway, we’ll wait here and I’ll switch off and come back to you when the fountain is underway.

The Doors Open, Action At Last – But Is It?

“And we have action – and just wait for the crowds. As the doors open, I’ll zoom in a bit here and see if we can get anything. I can’t hear a thing at the moment, but, well there’s the organ.

Oh, I see, it’s an actual real organ, not quite so spectacular as I had hoped. Right, you can probably see that, now the doors of the fountain have opened, there are some basically normal organ pipes behind it. Let’s pull back and you can have a look at the chaos around.

The Music Really Does Start…

“It looks a bit modern to me but, well, there we go. It’s all very spectacular, but absolutely nothing is happening. At least the crowd’s suddenly gone quiet, and the tension is killing me.

(Organ sounds a single note)

“And we’re off. Well, that was short, but sweet. Ah, I can hear something…

(Organ plays)

“The interesting thing about this organ is that it’s all powered by water, apparently. No sign of how that’s done, but that’s it. The door is still open, but the music continued on for a while, I don’t know if it’s still continuing. Everyone’s been frantically taking photographs but they’ve decided enough is enough and everyone’s started to split…”

(Tony is bumped and makes a crash zoom)

“Oops, sorry that was … I think I’ll join Helen who has managed to get a place right at the front, as you can see, so hopefully she’s got a few photographs.”

Water Organ Fountain

The baroque Water Organ Fountain was completed in 1611 under Cardinal Alessandro D’Este. The hydraulic mechanism was invented by Frenchman Claude Venard. Apparently the fall of the water causes air to escape from the organ pipes and at the same time another mechanism lowers the keys, causing the fountain to play. This invention fascinated Villa D’Este’s residents at the time.

Fell into neglect, but renovated and heard by Liszt

In the 18th century, when the villa and gardens were in the hands of the House of Habsburg, the place was neglected and the organ hydraulics fell into disuse. It was during the tenure of Cardinal Gustav Adolf Hohenlohe that the state of decay was reversed. Cardinal Hohenlohe hosted Franz Liszt at Villa D’Este and the famous composer is believed to have given one of his last concerts at the Villa. Today, Villa D’Este is state-owned which hopefully means that the music will keep playing at the Water Organ Fountain, as it did for us today.

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