The possibility of building a villa arose at a time when control of the hinterland by cities rendered fortified rural settlements unnecessary. Existing country houses belonging to the large land owning town nobility could be converted and newly built villas built solely for enjoying rural life did not need to be defensible as a castle. Both types represent the cultural ideal of rural life the so called villeggiatura.
Italian gardens are characterized by the abundance of architectural features or built features in the garden. Staircases, balustrades, cascades pavilions and pavements – even the cypress avenues are imitations of colonnades. The origins of the style are to be found in ancient Rome. They took the pains to site their villas on the countryside with exceptional views, where cooling breeze would reach them above malarial valleys. Within the villas there were courts and colonnades designed for every phase of wind and weather.
A cloister for exercise would face the southeast to catch the low winter sun but escaped the summer heat. With outdoor dining rooms and swimming pools that were heated the interpenetrating of house and garden was total. Spanish patios give some idea of the principle. Today California has examples of such outdoor living areas in gardens e.g., Hearst estate.
As the renaissance gathered force, in Florence under the Medici Family, percepts for gardenin were gleaned from the classics, notably by the architect Leone Batista Alberti (1404-72). The artificial arrangement of nature was dictated by the cultural world of a ruling class.
The most revolutionary garden was the Villa Medici built in 1460 at Fiesole. The garden was enclosed with grottos, statues along a linear axis.The full-fledged renaissance garden first emerged as a prelude to building St. Peters.
In 1503, Pope Julius II commissioned Bramante, who was later to draw up the plans for the Basilica., to build the Vatican Gardens – and build was the word. The Cortile del Belvedere at the Vatican became the prototype for imaginative roofless architecture.
The elements are stairs colonnades, stairs, and statues in niche and fountains. Bramante’s successors, Ligoria and Vignola brought the Italian garden to its climax with their masterpieces of mid 16th century – The Villa d’Este at Tivoli and the Villa Farnese at Caprarola and the Villa Lante (1566) near Viterbo.
As time went by, the dominance of nature in the garden once again took hold. In the 17th century, the French eclipsed the Italian style.