are no data concerning the art of gardening from the pre-republic period
in Rome. Culture during the epoch of the Roman republic was still relatively
poor because it rested mainly upon the old local Etruscan traditions.
As the Empire was established,
slavery extended much further than just keeping a slave at home as a servant.
The slaves worked for free in virtually every branch of production which
resulted in enormous benefits for their owners. This fortune was often
spent on grandiose architectural, engineering or garden constructions.
As another consequence, the expansion led to the spreading and developing
of the Roman culture far beyond the Mediterranean coast.
Roman masters used the accomplishments
of classic Greece not only in the fields of architecture and sculpture,
but also in the principles of garden building. However, the conditions
of the social life at that time diverted the course of development in a
different direction. Around the 1st century BC, the end of the republic
started a mass-scale construction of villas surrounded by parks. Of course,
this was on behalf of wealthy citizens who wanted to escape from the stuffy,
crowded and noisy capital. There were different types of villas: villa
urbana – an urban villa or entertainment palace, situated close to the
city; villa suburbana – a country villa; villa rustica – an agricultural
villa; villa fructuaria - a villa with orchards and vineyards.
The villa of Plinius Jr.
in Tosco is regarded one of the most typical examples of the achievements
and innovations in Roman horticulture and architecture. It was created
for no agricultural purpose which can be easily concluded from the abundance
of decorative structures such as flower parterres, fountains, marble statues
of Greek and Roman gods, temples, sanctuaries, arcades, caves, a maze and
other works of topiary.
Most of the Roman villas
were formed around an inner court with colonnades decorated with plants
and a fountain. One of the yards, planted with evergreen species, served
for night feasts. Decorative gardens for walks were situated right next
to the villa. Alleys, lined with trimmed trees and shrubs, passed through
lawns and flowerbeds. The Romans reached notably high levels in the arts
of topiary and horticulture. The aesthetics of plastic and flower compositions
was combined with fragrance and sounds from the water in the fountains
and the cascades. There is no doubt that the Roman art of gardening stands
up to contemporary decorative horticulture in terms of achievements. Garden
compositions included pergolas, encased alleys and decorative sculptures
such as benches and fountains. The range of plant species was exceptionally
The interaction between the
gardens for walks and the surrounding landscape contributed largely to
their qualities. The gardens of Rome (and later of Italy) are considered
a model of perfection in using the relief: the terraces in the slopes were
open to the captivating views of the scenery. The water, which streamed
down from the mountains, gathered in pools, fountains, artificial waterfalls
and cascades. These kinds of gardens were called Italian. The term (like
the two others: French = “regular” and English = “landscape” gardens) is
not scientific but widely used because it describes perfectly the composition
According to Plinius Jr.,
a part of the decorative gardens also included gardens for riding, gardens
for domesticated and wild animals. Vast orchards and vegetable gardens
stretched beyond them.
of the Villa Ludovisi Park in Rome
Vernet, Claude Joseph.
Oil on canvas. 74.5x99.5
cm; France. 1749
Museum of the Academy of
Arts, Petrograd. 1922