Italy is home to some amazing giardini all’italiana, as we would all expect it to be, and if you are in Italy I think it is definitely worth it to spend some time exploring the beautiful villas that host them: Villa Medici in Fiesole, Villa D’Este in Tivoli, Villa Lante near Viterbo just to name a few.
But if one day you feel like taking a break from this kind of aesthetic and want to immerse yourself in a very different interpretation of outside space, you might enjoy a visit to a Japanese garden.
I personally love Japanese gardens and no matter how far from Japan I happen to be, if I see mention of such a garden in a local guidebook, you can be sure that at some stage I will be there. A couple of years ago I visited the Japanese gardens near Dublin, in Ireland, and more recently I spent a wonderful day in the gardens in Montreal, where my visit was complemented by a tasty cup of tea.
So when, a few weeks ago, I learned that the Japanese gardens in Rome were about to be open to the public, I was delighted and knew straight away they would deserve a visit.
The Japanese gardens in Rome are part of the Japanese Cultural Institute in Via Gramsci (incidentally: a lovely part of the city, full of other attractions too) and have been built by architect Ken Nakajima. They are not the only example of Japanese style outdoor space in Rome, there is Japanese garden inside the main Orto Botanico, but as far as I know they are the only ones built around an actual working building, to which they act as fabulous backdrop and architectural complement.
The Japanese Garden in Rome at Cultural institute is small and the visit only takes a short while, but it is beautiful and it includes all the elements associated with the Sen’en style: cherry trees, wisteria, a waterfall, a bridge, dwarf trees, toro lamps and of course ponds – Sen’en meaning, I am told, ‘garden with lake’
I love how the architect worked with water features and plants with different foliage and heights. I find the mix of water and rocks and the pathways thought the vegetation deeply relaxing and I always wonder how something so manicured can still feel so natural. Each path, each brook feels casually laid down but at the same time radiates a strong sense of purpose so that you feel like your stroll around the garden is at the same time spontaneous and inevitable.
The gardens are unfortunately only occasionally open to the public – their maintenance is laborious and expensive – but the istituto tries its best to open their doors in spring and autumn, when the blossoms and the foliage make them truly magical.
At the moment the tour of the gardens is free of charge but booking is necessary and can be made by telephone (06.3224754) or at reception.
Since the visit to the garden will not take long, if you are in the area I suggest you combine it with other local attractions such as: il Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Valle Giulia (Etruscan Museum), the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary art (GNAM), with its lovely cafe, villa Boghese and Explora Children Museum just to name a few. You can have a look at the map below to create your perfect itinerary.
What do you think of Japanese gardens: do you like them and would you visit them outside of Japan? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to leave a comment below.