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The Sacred Grove of Bomarzo

Once upon a time there was a young nobleman who, after the death of his beloved wife, became so distraught with grief and anguish that he decided to build a garden in her memory to give vent to his aching heart. That young nobleman was the Duke of Bomarzo, an Italian named Pier Francesco Orsini, better known as Vicino, and his wife was Giulia Farnese, who died in 1560. The strange and melancholy garden he constructed is called Sacro Bosco, or the "Sacred Grove", and it still stands in a wooded valley in Bomarzo, a small town about 90 km north of Rome.

The garden is populated by macabre and grotesque sculptures intended not to please but to shock visitors. A huge elephant carries a trampled soldier, a giant tears apart his enemy by the legs, a dragon combats two lions and a colossal mouth gapes open to swallow visitors.

The garden was laid out on a hill and the statues carved out of natural, volcanic, rock outcroppings. For this reason there seems little order to how the place is organized. Many of the monstrous statues appear to be unconnected to any rational plan, but some carry inscription giving visitors some clue to what Vicino was thinking.

One of the largest piece of art in the grove is that of a War Elephant, carrying a castle on its back and an unconscious Roman soldier in its trunk. Some believe that sculpture is a reference to the invasion of Italy by Hannibal in 218 BC. Others believe that the elephant is a reference to the story of Eleazar, in “The Book of Maccabees”, where Eleazer kills the king's elephant, but is in turn himself killed when he is crushed under the beast.

After Vicino died in 1584, the sacred grove was forgotten and overgrown with creepers. But stories developed among the towns people about the monsters in the haunted woods and many villagers were frightened to go near the area. Eventually the place was dubbed "The Grove of the Monsters."

The surreal nature of the park greatly appealed the Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali, inspiring him to paint The Temptation of Saint Anthony in 1946. Soon after, the park was bought by Giovanni Bettini and restored to a major tourist attraction.

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