Nymphaeum of Mirrors (Rome)

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The Nymphaeum of Mirrors (Ninfeo degli Specchi), also called the Farnese Nymphaeum, is a mid-sixteenth century CE water-fountain built by the Farnese family as part of the "garden of delights" among ancient Roman ruins on the northern slopes of the Palatine Hill.


Part of the Farnesian secret gardens (Horti Farnesiani) belonging to the powerful Farnese family, the cave-like nymphaeum is attributed to the Renaissance architect Pirro Ligorio.

Established by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, the terraced Horti Farnesiani featured aviaries and magnificent sculptures however by the 18th century CE the gardens had become completely abandoned and overgrown.

The structure was originally covered with a domed roof, was decorated with stalactites, mosaics and mirror-holding satyrs. The water jets, designed to surprise visitors, bounced off the dome's ceiling, providing the effect of rain.



From the garden of Horti Farnesiani, covering the foundations of the Domus Tiberiana, a series of stairs and ramps led down towards the so-called Clivus Palatinus and the garderns facing the Colosseum. On this side of the hill are the remains of a semi-circular nymphaeum built in imitation of a grotto up against the ancient walls. Opening in to the wall of the nymphaeum are niches which hosted statues of Satyrs holding up mirrors, which gave the nymphaeum its name. Water fell like rain from the top of the vault, not lost, encrusted with colored stones and enamels; water also gushed up at the base of niches and, unexpectedy, from little holes in the floor in front of the nymphaeum, also made of a mosaic of colored stones.


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