Villa Gregorian located near the ancient citadel of Tivoli, not far from Rome, together with Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana it is part of a trio of incredible architectural, artistic and natural sites that are considered among the most fascinating in the world and are included in the World Heritage Unesco.
Villa Gregorian and less touristy than the three villas at Tivolito walk there is to enter an incredible world of botanical gardens, with water, architectural, artistic and natural constructions, sulphurous baths, lakes, fountains, libraries, spas and temples, in a park consisting mainly of dense forests with paths leading in caves, impressive gorges and waterfalls.
This picturesque park managed by the FAI (Italian Environment Fund) offers a curated version of the wilderness that attracted artists and writers in the 19th century.
The villa is named after Pope Gregory XVI, who saved Tivoli from chronic river damage by diverting its course through a tunnel and weakening its flow.
As an unexpected side effect there was the creation of the 108m Great Waterfall, which throws a huge jet of water into the valley below which you can admire along the path on the banks of the Aniene River between caves and balconies that open into the chasm. .
The Pope’s reasons for wanting to build this imposing villa in this area were defensive: Villa Gregoriana Park it stands on both sides of a deep moat with a stunning view of the Tiburtina landscape with its waterfalls, forests and caves.
In the park there is the Cave of the Mermaids and, at the end of a tunnel, the Cave of Poseidon, where the main channel of the Anieni once flowed.
From the entrance to the tunnel a path ascends to the exit near the two temples: the temple of Sibyl and that of Vesta, while the panoramic Gregorian Bridge crosses the valley near the Villa.
Visiting Villa Gregoriana is truly special because it allows you to combine nature, ancient art and outdoor physical activity in one day.
How to get
Villa Gregoriana is very easily accessible, it is located in the historical center of Tivoli and you can take advantage of the nearby paid parking. To reach it you cross Tivoli, past the medieval fortress and along the river.
Leaving Rome by car, just take the A24 Rome-L’Aquila motorway, take the Tivoli or Castel Madama exits and follow the signs for Tivoli, until Villa Gregoriana.
By train you leave from Rome Tiburtina station and get off at Tivoli, while by bus from Rome you can leave from Ponte Mammolo or Tiburtina station and get off at Tivoli.
From the city’s main bus stop, Largo Garibaldi, it’s about a ten-minute walk along a narrow shopping street, through the central Piazza Plebiscito, and then down several lanes to the bridge over the Villa.
The entrance is in the temples of Tivoli, along the Via Sibilla. The other entrance, the Falls Entrance, is flanked by a parking lot and is located on the opposite side of the gorge, above the Gregorian Bridge.
Opening times vary with the season, so it’s best to check the FAI website before you travel. Between December and February the site is open by appointment only.
The history of Villa Gregoriana
Tivoli was a popular residential and tourist site for the ancient Romans who built two temples on the edge of a steep valley next to the hilltop town.
The waterfalls formed by the Aniene River and the caves here were considered important sacred sites.
Centuries later, the Villa Gregoriana still faithfully bears witness to the constant search for architectural grandeur and beauty pursued by the romantic culture in bygone eras.
Villa Gregoriana is located in a steep valley called Valle dell’Inferno with the evocative backdrop of a picturesque waterfall.
Originally, the Aniene River poured out of the Cave of Poseidon, a crack in the rocks just below the temples, flooding the plain below whenever it overflowed.
After the severe flood of 1820, Pope Gregory XVI commissioned engineers to divert the main flow of the river through two new artificial tunnels to channel the water away from the city.
In this way the water was channeled along the rocks in front of the city, creating a new great waterfall. This trick not only protected Tivoli from further flood damage, but helped make it a popular destination for travelers on the Grand Tour of Europe.
Pope Gregory XVI himself presided over the lavish opening ceremony, which was marked by a spectacular display of fireworks that shot like flames from the mouths of the tunnels.
The project then became part of a hydroelectric system that made Tivoli the first Italian city with electric light.
About a century ago, in the 1920s, Villa Gregoriana remained closed for many years and abandoned in a state of deterioration of its beauty without any maintenance.
It was not until the early 2000s that the FAI undertook impressive restoration, safety and restoration work on the bed and banks of the Aniene, recovering the fountains and all the various structures that existed to reopen the gates to the public in 2005.
Villa Gregoriana is a large park. The visit is a walk on the paths, immersed in nature, where you come across caves, temples, waterfalls and panoramic points.
Given the size of the park, they had been studied two routes with relevant dedicated guides (Cave and temples – Forest and waterfalls).
The two entrances to Villa Gregoriana are on either side of the ravine. The main path that crosses the area twists and turns connecting one entrance to the other.
Several alternative routes branch off from the trail and lead to various viewpoints.
The most panoramic view is at the Great Falls, which is accessed via a narrow path with many steps that offer the breathtaking sight of rainbows created by the splashing water. Proceeding all the way you reach the top of the waterfall, where the water comes out of the two tunnels made in the cliff.
At the foot of the hill, in the so-called Valley of Hell, the river plunges into the Cave of the Mermaids, where the water leaps and runs in the dark.
The beautiful and unsettling “Mermaids’ Cave” was named after the French artist Louis Ducros.
Also worth seeing are the ruins of a Roman villa, two rooms carved into the rock overlooking the valley and a tunnel from the Napoleonic era.
The visit takes at least an hour and a half to complete, on a dirt path full of ups and downs between shady and sunny areas, so it is not suitable for the hot months or for people with reduced mobility.
The paths are sometimes muddy and to descend into the depths of the park you need to be quite fit and wear comfortable, non-slip shoes.
There are many stone steps and slopes, rough terrain, twists and turns as you make your way through the narrow valley. Along the route you will find many benches where you can sit and rest or enjoy the view.