Just north of the small Italian town of Bomarzo is a quiet park where sunlight filters through the canopies of trees and lands on moss-covered stone sculptures. Many of these sculptures, however, are less than tranquil: There’s a reason the place is called Parco dei Mostri, or the Park of the Monsters.
The sculptures in the park emerged from the tormented mind of 16th-century Italian prince Pier Francesco Orsini. The prince endured a brutal war, saw his friend killed, was held for ransom for years, and returned home only to have his beloved wife die. Seeking a way to express his grief, Orsini hired architect Pirro Ligorio to create a park that would shock and frighten its visitors.
The park exhibits the 16th-century Mannerist style—an artistic approach that rejected the Renaissance’s elegance and harmony in favor of exaggerated, often tortured expressions and a mishmash of mythological, classical, and religious influences. Its wretched sculptures—including a war elephant attacking a Roman soldier, a monstrous fish-head, a giant tearing another giant in half, and a house built on a tilt to disorient the viewer—caught the attention of Salvador Dalí, who visited in 1948 and found much to inspire his Surrealist artwork.
A trip to the park is not complete without a walk down the stone stairs leading into the “Mouth of Hell”: the face of an ogre captured midscream. Walk into its gaping maw, inscribed with “all reason departs,” and you’ll find a picnic table with benches.
More parks to wonder at and wander through: