shadows and light in the gardens of san michele on anacapri

At the edge of the garden at the Villa San Michele on Anacapri there are beautiful architectural details and greco roman fragments displayed among the trees and flowers.

“My house must be open to the sun, to the wind, and the voice of the sea, just like a Greek temple, and light, light, light everywhere!” – Axel Munthe

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I find the ramble through the gardens of Anacapri (especially the Villa San Michele one) to be a bit fairytale-like, a bit dreamy. The dark, lush, green paths over stone and fragments of ancient Roman columns and statues; the intoxicating scent of flowers and herbs; the layered calls of forty different species of birds – all hold one’s attention. When the garden is not crowded one can find themselves utterly alone, with the run of the place. There’s a sense of timelessness walking the stone paths and climbing stairs which boast unreal views of rugged coastline and layers of rocky, verdant cliffs.

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A nonchalant rustic garden with the aesthetics of a museum, an olive jar, shadows between the sunlight and a verdant spread accompanying a stroll. The stairs beckon and frighten a little when alone.

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The gorgeous cloak of wisteria entwining the columns and topiaries. Mighty cypresses soaring like some needly skyscrapers. The hint of other villas and other stories are tucked neatly into the mountain.

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Bright yellow flowers grow in impossible places, their faces outstretched toward the sun.

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The heady flowering of spring, clean white blossoms breaking up the velvet thick gloss of leaves and tangled old branches, is in every turn.

“The sacred mountain above San Michele is full of birds on their way home to mate and rear their young. What a joy to me that they can rest there in peace! Yesterday I picked up a poor little skylark, so exhausted from his long journey across the sea that he didn’t even at- tempt to fly away, he sat quite still in the palm of my hand as if he understood it was the hand of a friend, perhaps a compatriot I asked him if he wouldn’t sing me a song before he went off again, there was no bird-song I liked better than his; but he said he had no time to spare, he had to hurry home to Sweden to sing the summer in. For more than a week the flute-like notes of a golden oriole have been sounding in my garden. The other day I caught sight of his bride hiding in a laurel bush. To-day I have seen their nest, a marvel of bird-architecture. There is also much fluttering of wings and a soft murmur of bird-voices in the thicket of rosemary by the chapel.” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

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On the old stairs a soft moss lies on the stone, suggesting an endless year of spring and life growing in the garden.

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Far below a tiny shock of blue sits in between the fields and the bay of Naples; while all those lives play out from an Emperor’s ancient vantage point.

“The whole bay of Naples lies shining like a mirror below my feet, the columns on the pergola, the loggias and the chapel are all ablaze with light…” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

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The best view is a private spot of solace, a corner to stop in your tracks and allow the view to overtake your senses. A sip of the island’s limoncello, the scent of flowers and the sea, the sound of the birds and the south wind, the feel of the stone along your hands and under your feet – all senses are occupied with Capri from here.

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On certain days when the weather is perfect it feels as if one could see the whole world from here.

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Some of the paths are winding, some are hidden until you come upon then suddenly, some form straight lines with edges and niches laid out for yards.

“The pergola was already covered with young vines; roses, honeysuckle and Epomea were clustering round the long row of white columns. Among the cypresses in the little cloister court stood the Dancing Faun on his column of cipollino, in the centre of the big loggia sat the bronze Hermes from Herculaneum.” – The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

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Follow the ivy climbing over the columns and stone walls as you explore the garden, every corner is a delight.

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At the top of the steps are uniformed pots of green plants and spring buds, standing at attention for your wander about.

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On one path a sign leads to the café, a welcome distraction after all that beauty. Doesn’t everyone at a museum always love a café? This one is a rooftop one in the garden.

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Gnarled vines from long dead plants wind themselves around majestic trees along a columned loggia.

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The exotic and native flowers in every hue are marked and greet thousands of visitors each year.

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A stone water fountain which looks completely natural bubbles forth in between ivy, basil and shiny leaves. There’s mint and rosemary and too many herbs to count.

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A few Egyptian looking palm trees and several umbrella pines recall Capri’s ancient Roman days when the island played host to emperors and sirens.

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This is one of my favorite spots…I feel a sense of happiness and pleasure whenever I pass under the leafy canopy and approach the café. This is my dream garden.

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Whenever I see a Bird of Paradise I think warmly of my mother and her love for them. This was the most perfect one I’ve ever noticed.

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The Loggia has many windows to the sea and other curves of the garden. They are filled with manicured folder pots and Greco Roman statues. Roses climb the walls in every soft color.

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Some of the architecture reminds me of a Spanish style church, some is a bit Occidental, some a little Roman and the rest an eclectic mix of early 20th century and Capri-style.

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Each path ends with a different corner of the grounds, each turn is so inviting it’s difficult to choose one lane over another for the promise of their beauty.

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Where ever you end up in the next step, it’s easy (and enjoyable) to get lost. You always wind up at the heart of the garden and of Capri herself. If you remain quiet and strain your ear just a little bit and listen past the songs of birds, you may still hear the faint call of the sirens on the rocks below you.

“Like children in the trackless forest we grope our way through our lives in blissful ignorance of what is going to happen to us from one day to another, what hardships we may have to face, what more or less thrilling adventures we may encounter before the great adventure, the most thrilling of all, the Adventure of Death. Now and then in our perplexity we venture to put a timid question to our destiny, but we get no answer for the stars are too far away. The sooner we realize that our fate lies in ourselves and not in the stars, so much the better for us. Happiness we can only find in ourselves, it is a waste of time to seek for it from others, few have any to spare.” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

Interesting perusal in relation to Anacapri and Capri:

The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe (Full text)

Elsyium Press, Capri publications, Rare photographs and lithographs, Norman Douglas.

This is part three in a series of photo essays on the Island of Capri’s museum The Villa San Michele. All photographs copyright Rebecca Price Butler at alovelettertorome.com

at the enchanting villa san michele’s gardens on anacapri

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A Greco Roman bust outside the chapel in the Italiani Giardini. The white tile stairs lead up to the former bird conservatory.

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The winged Egyptian bust overlooking the Marina Grande with Ischia faintly shimmering in the background through the low clouds.

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The sphinx watching over the sea, an ancient siren calling wanderlust to travelers.

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The bird’s eye view.

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The beautiful sweeping coastline of Capri.

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The tiny chapel in the garden.

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Cypress trees and gorgeous pillars on the terrace overlooking the sea.

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There are a series of stairs leading to sumptuous turns of the garden and pathways further up the hill.

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Although the villa is high up on Anacapri, there are soaring rocky cliffs surrounding the grounds. One rock was the the fort overtaken by the pirate Redbeard, which was later owned by Axel Munthe and donated back to the island (but owned by) his Swedish foundation.

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The veranda, home to the sphinx, is inviting in white tile and stone, with benches to rest on and views everywhere you look.

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The charming path way walks are lined with greenery, flowers and fountains.

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Every turn on the grounds is more and more enchanting. I cannot recommend enough an hour’s visit to the Villa for it’s peacefulness and beauty. On hot days it’s a cool and shady refuge.

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Olive jars, more cypresses and Roman Umbrella pines!

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A side view of the Egyptian winged pegasus-like female sphinx.

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The exterior of Axel Munthe’s chapel.

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Potted urns along the walk.

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Herbal garden, leaves and trees.

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Hedges and shrubbery grown over decades forming fences.

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Another angle of the sphinx’s view.

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A tiny boat leaving the shore.

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The clouds and mist find each other.

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Because of Axel Munthe’s tireless advocation for the exotic array of birds who migrate to the island each year, Capri is now one giant bird sanctuary. Bird hunting is outlawed. The beautiful song of many different birds can be heard from morning to night, when the nightingales come out. It is then when I can feel Keats poem, Ode To A Nightingale, alive in the air.FH060023

I worry some of the pictures are a bit repetitious but they were all beautiful reminders of being there. Even a subtle angle change is reminiscent of walking through the grounds and seeing the beauty unfold a step at a time. And believe it or not I am actually restraining myself.

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A semi hidden niche at the end of Villa San Michele’s labyrinthine gardens and loggias.

This was part one of the Villa San Michele series shot on portra 35mm film, velvia film slides and vintage kodak. The history of San Michele, more garden rambles, the cafe and interior of the villa, the flora and fauna of the grounds and excerpts from Axel Munthe’s book on his Villa to come in following posts. For visitor information visit: villasanmichele.eu . If you find yourself on Capri, even for a day, you must take a convertible taxi or the bus up to Anacapri (because it’s less crowded, lovely and full of hand painted tile, jewelry and sandal artisans) and it is the home of the Villa San Michele! You won’t regret it!

More to follow! These photographs and travel essays are copyright Rebecca Price Butler, alovelettertorome.com

That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

a walk in trastevere

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Trastevere is a charming neighborhood across the Tiber from the historic center of Rome. It’s a great spot to have lunch and spend an afternoon walking around, admiring the warm, faded colors of the buildings. They bake wonderful breads and cookies at La Renella and sell handmade chocolates at Valzoni to locals and tourists. My favorite book shop in Rome is The Almost Corner Bookshop, an all English language store filled with fiction and non-fiction dedicated to Rome and Italy, lots of great classic literature and the latest publications in English. I always pick up something perfect to set the tone of my visit to Rome – in March it was Geothe’s near perfect Italian Journey, which colored my walk on the Appian Way and walking through the Porta San Sebastiano. In October it was my favorite Odes of John Keats in a neat little volume, with a little Shelley and Byron, who all accompanied me on my visits to The Keats Shelley (Byron) House and for a prosecco at Caffe Greco and even to Keats tombstone in Testaccio.

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Trastevere is not usually overrun with tourists and has a little bit of an off the beaten path feel to it. One can walk to Tiber Island for curious sights or the Giancolo (Janiculum Hill) for an alternate view of Rome or even to the residential neighborhood of Monteverde which boasts the lovely Villa Sciarra parks and is truly off the beaten path.  I love the beautiful curves and colors of the architecture.

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Trastevere has the chicest farmacia I’ve ever seen. Each little shop and boutique is delightful and covered with crawling greenery. The curb appeal and doorstep gardens of Italy are an obsession of mine.

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The gorgeous overhanging vines and ivy of your typical Trastevere pedestrian street next to little cafes and restaurants.

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The layers of stone and paint and greenery are lush all year long. I adore this section so much.

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A charming respite to duck in when caught in the rain (as I was that afternoon)!

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The main piazza of Trastevere with the cannot be missed church. A great people watching locale.

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They even have the ambulatories in Rome to bounce one over cobblestoned paths. The green grows thick and spreads over garden walls.

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Miniature terraces with majestic potted plants which grow as long as Rapunzel’s hair!

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The place to see and be seen.

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The exceptionally old exterior. “The Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere (Italian: Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere) is a titular minor basilica, one of the oldest Churches of Rome, perhaps the first in which Mass was openly celebrated. The basic floor plan and wall structure of the church date back to the 340s, The first sanctuary was built in 221 and 227 by Pope Calixtus I and later completed by Pope Julius. -Wikipedia 

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A close up of the pretty detail, with Occidental features like Egyptian palm trees and the gold leafed saints mosaics.

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Man walking dog past a cafe – “Isn’t it a lovely scene?” 

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Coolest cafe sign ever. It’s always closed when I find myself in Trastevere unfortunately!

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Yes, it IS a terribly romantic place to get lost in. 

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The requisite laundry shot because I never, ever, ever tire of those. 

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And a light blue vespa! It is Italy after all! It’s a requirement for any tour.

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Rome – where the masterpieces are both outdoors and indoors for your viewing pleasure and contemplation. This is why I love the eternal city. It is made up of a thousand moments of aesthetic joy.

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These were all shot on my 35 mm film camera on a dull, grey, rainy afternoon and still the color and hues shine through the haze! 

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Just sequester me here to this flat with the garden-y window for a season or two… I will be happy. I’ll walk the streets in the morning, pop into churches and museums in the afternoon and sit Juliet style by this window at night. 

I miss the village green,
And all the simple people.
I miss the village green,
The church, the clock, the steeple.
I miss the morning dew, fresh air and Sunday school.

And now all the houses
Are rare antiquities.
American tourists flock to see the village green.
They snap their photographs and say “Gawd darn it,
Isn’t it a pretty scene?”

-The Kinks

//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …find my work on tumblr & pinterest … please link & credit me.

In relation to my choosing the very British provincial music quotes is a 10 year old video featuring the song and the very amazing Lord Whimsy. 

 

the borghese & pincio

The Pincian Hill statue and fountain, walk to the end of the Pincio and stand where the people are for a breathtaking sunset over Rome’s nearby and far away cupolas, churches, renaissance homes and marble and stone.

The Villa Borghese garden park is the most beautiful, breathtaking city park I’ve ever seen. When in Rome, we usually stay on the Via Veneto at the gorgeous Grande Albergo Flora. It’s next to an 1100 year old wall which leads to the park.

Families and couples rent these little golf carts to stroll around the park on the weekends.

We take a leisurely stroll through the park every morning, passing by cyclists and flaneurs, children and fruit sellers.

borghese ramble, rome, italy, 2012 (digital).

In one section of the large park there is fresh fruit and juice sold by a Parisian looking cart. The juice is amazing.

rome in the spring time, 2012, (digital)

Romans bicycle in the park and visitors rent bicycles to ride all afternoon through the beautiful surroundings.

The Dandy Travelers, Rome, Italy, 2008 (film)

The stone and marble details of the ornately carved benches and walls are commonplace, tourists perusing a map or Romans can sit and take in the lush outdoor decor. There is nothing like this in America.

yeah, so i’m pretty much going to be photo bombing this tumblr with a lot of pincio photographs because it’s only the prettiest place on earth & insanely photogenic, especially with the sun slung low.

You know you’ve walked into the Pincio part of the Borghese when you see all the statues and busts of Italian notables.

There’s a bird aviary, 18th centurary statuary, fountains, winding garden lanes and wide boulevards, with the scent of lemon and orange and cypress trees. There’s a pond and lazy Sunday park benches and fields where Roman’s lunch and steal kisses.

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Borghese pond, Rome, Italy, 2012 (digital)The pond in the Borghese is stunning. People rent charming little rowboats and children sail toy boats on the lake. There are ruins nearby and this “boat house” is historical and beautiful.

if you find yourself in rome close to sunset, get yourself over to the ancient pincio hill and allow the dusk to soften the cypress, the cupolas, the church bells, the renaissance busts, the gorgeous little paths. The golden hour right before sunset is the most magical time to be here. 

I thought nearly all of my holiday photographs of two weeks in Rome were gone forever… tonight I came home from work to find my 16GB hard drive key in the mail on my doorstep… I have loads of beautiful pictures to go through. I am so happy and grateful I could sing. Editing and sharing a few while I sip champagne pink grapefruit cocktails and re-watching the series Rome. Full of bursting gratitude my pictures aren’t lost forever!

Kids rollerblade on the Viale delle Magnolie (avenue of the Magnolias) – a magnolia tree lined paved street leading to the Pincio that reminds me of New Orleans when the magnolias are in bloom.

The Borghese homes (now museums,boutique hotels and lavish restaurants and quiet cafes) are all high renaissance architecture, housing some of the greatest of the world’s art treasures; Bernini, Bellini, Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael, Rubens, Canova, among countless beautiful objects and amazing paintings and sculptures.

nice little lunch and drink cafe in the beautiful villa borghese park. rome, italy, 2012 (digital)

This was a great cafe right in the park with good espresso, wines, juice, small plates and desserts. It had perfect outdoor ambience.

The original gardens were the famed ancient Gardens of Lucullus and later “became the favorite playground of Claudius’ Empress Messalina (after she forced the current owner, Valerius Asiaticus, to commit suicide – Tac. Annals XI.1), and was the site of her murder on the orders of the Emperor Claudius, her husband. In the 16th century they were owned by Felice della Rovere, daughter of Pope Julius II. In 1605, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew of Pope Paul V and patron of Bernini, began turning this former vineyard into the most extensive gardens built in Rome since Antiquity.” (Wikipedia)

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Orange trees from a “secret garden” – through the gate.

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Lemon trees from a “secret garden” – through the gate.

Villa Borghese statue niche detail, secret garden courtyard, rome, italy, 2012 (digital)

Outdoor garden architecture!

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One of the spot’s I love most is the secret garden with the orange and lemon trees, next to the incredible Galleria Borghese. One looks through an iron fence to the 17th century splendor of the greenery.

A far away shot of the garden architecture of one of the “secret gardens”.

I slipped my arm between the iron fence and picked two beautiful oranges from a tree in the borghese gardens, planted in the renaissance, forbidden to commoners, on the former spot of the ancient roman gardens of lucullus. The fruit was bittersweet.

A far away shot of the orange and lemon trees from one of the “secret gardens”.

After enjoying the park, the gardens and perusing the art, we then walk to the Piazza d’Espagna (the Spanish Steps) and drink tea and eat scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam in the most British of all afternoon tearooms, the sumptuous, very 19th century, Babington Tea room.

If we’re feeling really ambitious we pop a couple doors over to the Keats and Shelley house, recite a little poetry, watch the passersby, and walk further into the city.

“The Secret Garden, is a charming characteristic which can be found in italian parks and gardens of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, when there was a revival of interest in all things ancient. These lovely enclosed spaces, often near their owners’ homes, were reserved for the invited and the privileged. Such places have a lovely atmosphere of seclusion, secrecy and tranquility, adding new dimensions of beauty to their surroundings.

The Villa Borghese had two “secret spaces”: one, shrouded by trees, is the garden of bitter oranges (Giardino dei melangoli) and has a lovely eagle fountain in front of its adjacent mansion; the second “The Flower Garden”, is the beautifully laid out formal garden. A third secret garden stretches in front of the Aviary, accompanied by the Meridiana (Sun dial) mansion, designed by Rainaldi.”

( http://www.italyguides.it/us/roma/rome/villa-borghese-gardens/villa-borghese.htm )

This will not be my last writing on the villa borghese parks and gardens. It’s a place I keep returning to and each visit brings something new to my world. If you go to Rome one day you must walk through this park and see a sunset on the Pincio. I hope you can explore this lovely place. And see the art work at the Villa Borghese museum, too!

//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …

find my work on tumblr & pinterest … please link & credit me.