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Gardens of Ninfa - Medieval Ruins and Green Havens

Gardens of Ninfa - Medieval Ruins and Green Havens

Immersed in the soft landscape of the Latina Plain, the gardens of Ninfa appear like a ghostlike portal to a different world. The remains of a once flourishing medieval town are now softly embalmed with ivy and roses, growing in seemingly casual places like the apsis of a fallen church, out of the window of a family mansion or from the crumbling wall of a former customs office.

Latina, the southern end of the Lazio region, used to be the perilous border region between the Reign of Naples and the Pontifical States. Thus located Ninfa has known many changes of hand in the millennium since its founding in the 9th century. The prosperous little town was handed back and forth between Popes and royals as trading goods for favours and commercial rights.

After the pillage and nearby total distruction in 1382 by a hostile branch of the Caetani family which then ruled Ninfa, it was never reconstructed and was left to ruin, in part also due to the malaria caused by the surrounging marshes. Although the inhabitants from nearby villages continued to maintain and officiate in the churches until the 16th century; perhaps the reason why some remains of them are still with us today.

A first attempt at creating a garden among the ruins dates back to the 17th century, of which a small hortus conclusus remains, although the garden began growing into the shape it shows today only from the mid-1800, when the Caetani returned to their estate. Under the care of Onoraro Caetani, his wife Ada Bootle Wilbraham and two of their sons, Gelasio and Roffredo, Ninfa began changing into a magical place.

After draining the marshes, the family set to work with planting rare and unusual plant species among the ruins, after carefully liberating them from infesting plants and ivys. The idea was to create an English garden, seemingly wild and natural, though utmost care was put in the choice and placement of the cypresses, holm and beech trees (but a few of the many kinds of trees planted) as well as a myriad of different species of both wild and cultivated roses.

Roffredo Caetani, following his fathers footsteps continued the gardening legacy in Ninfa. His wife, Marguerite Caetani, led the internationally recognized literary magazine Botteghe Oscure, which published up and coming writers such as Dylan Thomas, Günter Grass, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italo Calvino and Albert Camus, to mention but a few. She opened the verdant paradise to the artists and writers featured in her magazine, wishing to provide them with a place to find inspiration and peace from the chaos of the city.

The last link of the family is Lelia Caetani. An accomplished painter and gardener, she used the garden as a living canvas, colouring it with magnolias, plums and apple trees for their flowers, as well as climbing roses, which today embrace the partially restored ruins. Before her death in 1977, Donna Lelia instituted the Roffredo Caetani Foundation with the aim to continue to promote and cure the area in and around Ninfa, which still today cares for the estate and permits visitors from all over the world to enjoy the luxuriant wonder her family has created.

The garden is home to an impressive variety of plants, over 1300, including rare species of camellia and honeysuckle as well as many different species of roses. The mild climate of the area permits the plants to grow fast and vigorously, even ones that typically grow in tropical areas such as avocado and banana trees.


-The gardens are visitable on certain weekends during the year in order to preserve the particular microclimate that permits its existence. The calendar for 2016 should soon be published on their website. During visiting days guided tours depart every 10 minutes, since free visits are not permitted, nor is remaining in the park once the tour is finished, all to ensure the peace of the green haven.


Giardino di Ninfa

Doganella di Ninfa – Via Provinciale Ninfina, 68, 04012 Cisterna di Latina (LT)





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