Around the falls of the Aniene river descending from the Sabine hills, the small Italian town of Tivoli was developed with spectacular views over the Roman Campagna. The hamlet became famed for its dramatic terraced hills overlooking low-lying flat pastures, which inspired artists who flocked into Rome in the 18th and 19th centuries. Hence, the majestic landscapes of the Campagna became the most painted landscape in Europe. Tivoli had also been a popular summer residence since ancient Roman times due to its altitude, cooler temperatures and its proximity to the Villa Hadriana, the summer residence of the Emperor Hadrian I. In the 16th century, the Este family were known patrons of the arts and of the humanist scholars of the Renaissance. So when Alfonso d'Este took over the site of an ancient Roman villa with spectacular view of the countryside below, including Hadrian's villa, and an abundant natural water supply for fountains and gardens, he decided to build something that will exceed anything the Romans had built before.
In 1509, he commissioned a prominent classical scholar, Pirro Ligorio, who had studied the Villa Hadriana and other Roman sites in the vicinity, to plan a new palace. Massive amount of earth was excavated and used to construct new terraces, arcades, grottos, niches, and nymphaeums. The nearby river Aniene was diverted to furnish water for the complex system of pools, water jets, channels, fountains, cascades and water games. But the steep slope of the garden, more than forty-five meters from top to bottom, posed special challenges. Canals were dug and two hundred meters of underground pipes were laid, to carry the water from the artificial mountain under the oval fountain to the rest of the garden. By 1695, however, the Este dynasty were unable to support the high cost of maintaining the villa, which they rarely used and which produced no income. The villa went into a long decline, and was ransacked. It was only after the House of Habsburg took possession of the palace in the mid 19th century, that Villa D’Este began to regain back its old romantic sentiment. The villa once again attracted artists, musicians and writers and was the meeting ground for high European society.