Some places are so improbably beautiful
that we react with a nervous laugh...

Knowing that we will never deal with the experience in rational terms. Nor take away more than a pale recollection of what we have seen and felt.

We are in Ninfa - in the Province of Latina, barely an hour's drive south of Rome. In the lowlands between the Lepini Mountains and the Tyrrhenian Sea.

In the fourteenth century, Ninfa was a flourishing walled city with a castle, at least fifteen churches and thousands of inhabitants. It dominated the principal coastal road between Rome and the South (the former Appian Way).

Then, the Pontine Marshes re-emerged after generations of neglect, bringing the scourge of malaria. The inhabitants fled to the nearby hill towns of Norma, Cori and  Sermoneta. And by the seventeenth century, Ninfa remained a haunted realm of deadly contagion and dark legend.

In 1920, Prince Gelasio Caetani (heir to the Dukes of Sermoneta) began transforming the waterlogged ruins into a romantic pleasure garden - thanks to government land reclamation policy and a succession of British and American wives (who brought financial resources and Anglo-Saxon tastes.)


The ultimate result -  heart-stoppingly gorgeous and utterly over-the-top - is exactly what was intended. And we respond in all the predictable ways...

We run from place to place... We take far too many photographs (few of which turn out)... We do silly things...

Under the weight of so many layers of history.  

Reminding ourselves that we are still alive.

More Vanished Peoples? See:


  1. Does not even look real...beautiful.

  2. The "Oasi di Ninfa" (as the garden is officially called) is probably the most difficult place to photograph that we have ever visited. Everything looks so unbelievably wonderful, that you think you can just point and shoot every which way without thinking. The colors are outrageously saturated, especially in the green range. And it all comes on so strong that it is almost impossible to personalize the photos or give them a stylistic edge. When it comes to "Ninfa vs. Photographer", Ninfa always wins. Hands down... It's not even close!

  3. I remember when I finally got to Europe and I was walking through the cathedrals I kept thinking, "Oh, pictures do not do these massive works of architecture justice." I was actually quite dumbfounded and pleasantly amazed at how grande they were. I can only imagine how much MORE lovely this place is, in person!!

  4. Would I call the Oasis of Ninfa "lovely"? I'm not so sure! Beautiful... overwhelming... unforgetable... For sure! It is a place that really gets under your skin, with its strange mixture of overly-lush near-swamp and the barren hills all around. Then within the "Oasis" itself, you are on the edge between burgeoning fertility and advancing decay. Out of the corner of your eye, you can usually catch the iridescent glimmer of decomposition.

  5. This just sounds magical...~how far do you live from the Oasis of Ninfa? Do you visit often?

  6. Ninfa is an hour-and-a-half south of Rome and thus a longish drive (about four hours) from Florence. And the Oasis is open only a couple of days a month during part of the year. My brother and I got to know it fairly well since we have spent a good deal of time in the Mussolini Metropolis of Latina (see the SWAMP CREATURES post that follows this one.) And Ninfa is barely five minutes from our favorite hotel on the outskirts of Latina.

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