A garden reborn: Venarìa Reale

As of May 18th 2020, several restrictions have been lifted in Italy, thus allowing all of us a mild return to our normal life, although being very cautious and by putting into practice every possible preventive measure such as face-masks and constant hand disinfection.

Museums and attractions also re-opened to the public, so that last Saturday I decided to take a stroll inside the big Gardens of Venaria Reale. Surprisingly enough and very luckily I was the only visitor inside, thus I had the chance to exploit them all in full tranquillity, at my own very pace…and also I took several pictures. The weather was not very good, but the atmosphere was definitely fine.

The Northern side of the Hunting Lodge of Venarìa Reale. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

For those of you who are not familiar with it, Venaria Reale is a mighty Hunting Lodge, built in the 1600s by the former Italian Royal Family, just outside the city of Torino, the capital of the Kingdom. The Palace is surrounded by a very big garden, which was unfortunately kept by the French Army during Napolen’s invasion and transformed into a military base, thus also turning the gardens into a wide esplanade for the soldiers’ deposits and military exercise.

When the Royal Family came back to town, they understood it would have costed a fortune to restore everything so they also left the palace and the gardens abandoned.

In 2007, after a massive restoration process funded by a mix of grants coming from both the Italian Government and the European Union, the Hunting Lodge of Venarìa Reale was reopened to the public. The gardens underwent an incredibly well conceived project to take them back to their original splendour based on the gardening styles used to renovate them through the centuries… with a touch of contemporary art also.

The Gardens are divided into different areas meant to display all the gardening styles spanning from the early Italian Baroque to the Romantic English gardens via the French look at the infinite and the contemporary art patterns. Let’s see these areas one by one.

The upper Italian garden

The western garden (upper garden) – Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

The Baroque Italian gardens were meant to surprise the visitors with fountains, multi layered hedges and flowers. The upper western side of the gardens have been reconstructed based on this principle, with 4 big flowerbeds, with a horn shaped stoney decoration on the ground (the musical instruments used as signal to start hunting). There was a very big fountain here, dedicated to Hercules, which was dismantled early after its construction when the gardening trend moved to the French parterre. The statue of Hercules is still there, while the foundations of the fountain are still under restoration

The French Parterre

Frech parterre overlooking the Royal Pavilion, the Church of St. Uberto and the Stables (southern gardens at Venarìa Reale) – Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
The 2 Royal Pavilions, the Belvedere Tower and the Church of St. Uberto from the French Parterre (Southern gardens and Venarìa Reale) – Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

The southern side of the gardens, facing the 2 royal pavilions and the mighty Grand Gallery of the palace, has been restored based on the French Parterre style which was based on the principle that nothing should obstruct the view towards the horizon. Fountains were removed and high hedges were lowered down to give room to plain and wide esplanades decorated by low flowers and geometrically cut shrubs. The area of the Gardens of Venaria covered by the French parterre is pretty wide and allows a nice view over the southern wing of the Palace, the church of St. Uberto and the big façade of the stables, so big to impress all visitors from abroad since the 1730s.

The Rose Garden

The Roses garden and the Pergola overlookin the Villa of Diana and the Queen’s Pavilion. South west garden at Venarìa Reale – Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

On the left side of the upper Italian Garden, still in the southern side, a very big squared pergola has been constructed, allowing a very nice stroll under the pleasant shade of the Roses’ bush, hanging on the metal rods of the tall structure. From the centre of the flowerbed you can enjoy a very nice view over the coloured roofs of the palace while the perfumes of the roses gently penetrate you nostrils. I have been lucky because, being late May, the roses were in full bloom.

The Ally of Hercules

The Ally of Hercules and the foundation of the temple of Diana – Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

In the western side of the gardens you can see the restored Ally of Hercules. It’s a pretty long water basin, 800 meters long (approximately ½ mile) with small waterfalls producing a wider sense of refreshment, that unites the former Fountain of Hercules to the Temple of the Goddess Diana (the whole hunting lodge was dedicated to Diana, she being the patron goddess of hunts). Both the fountain and the temple do not exist anymore as they were demolished in the early 1700s to adjust the garden to the new French design toward the horizon. However, at the end of the ally, the small lake and the foundations of the temple are still visible. The water canal is flanked by elm trees, still in the early stage of their growing, thus making it a very nice and pleasant stroll especially during hot summer days.

The Royal Potager

Flowers and plants at the Royal Potager – Lower northwest garden at Venarìa Reale.
Photo by Matteo Gazzarata
The yellow roses pergola at the Royal Potager. Lower northwest garden at Venarìa Reale. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

Surprisingly enough, the Savoy family was also farming. Their gardens were not only meant to entertain their guest but also to produce food both for the necessities of the Court as well as to release products into the market. It was a smart way to reduce the costs of running a royal lifestyle and to get some money for the maintenance of their large properties. In this section of the Gardens, in the lower area along the ally of Hercules, fruit trees and vegetables have been replanted and do produce quite a lot, thus creating a side source of income for the maintenance of the gardens and the palace of Venarìa Reale. You can see cherr, peaches, apricots and apple trees as well as eggplants and pumpkins. The area is very colourful and enjoyable and conveys the message that, regardless of their status, even the Royals were farmers.

The big fish pool

The fish pool. Lower Northern Gardens at Venarìa Reale. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

In the northern lower section of the Gardens a very big water basin has been restored. Originally conceived to allow the members of the court and the guests to have some fun by fishing aboard finely decorated boats, or just to stroll around it under the shade of big durmast trees, it is now used by a family of swans. The pool is still navigable aboard a “gondola”. Despite being the traditional mean of transportation in Venice, the Savoy Family had good connections with the Venetian Doges so that exchange of presents was pretty frequent. This is also the place where, from my point of view, you can take the nicest picture of the palace, which reflect itself in the quiet water of the pool.

The contemporary garden

The northern wall supporting the foundation of the palace was originally decorated with grottoes and fountains covered with mineral stones and shells, removed at the beginning of the 1700s. The area between the wall and the fish pool is now enriched by 14 installations by the contemporary Italian Artist Giuseppe Penone, pretty famous worldwide for his ability to connect art and nature in a very peculiar and personal way. Here below you can see the “stroney brain” and the “water fingerprint” located one next to the other, along the wall.

If you are planning to go visit the Piedmont Region, taste a good wine and enjoy a nice panorama over the Alps, do not skip a visit to these beautiful gardens at the Hunting Lodge of Venarìa Reale. The ability of the modern gardeners to reconstruct a lost heritage will impress you for sure and will let you feel the atmosphere of living in the 1600 and 1700s. By the way…I didn’t write about the palace which also is very impressive and more than worth a visit.

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