The Villa Borghese is one of Rome’s treasures. It’s roughly 198 acres of gardens and contains a number of buildings, art venues, statues, water features, and walking paths. The Spanish Steps lead up to it at one end, and another entrance is at the Piazza del Popolo. The layout, influenced by the English natural style, was designed in the 19th century, so it looks different than what Casanova would have seen. But he writes about walking through these gardens when he visited Rome in 1744.
“I went by myself to the Villa Borghese,” he writes, “where I walked for two hours in desperation.” This was just after Barbaruccia had involved him in her affair and failed elopement, and Casanova had been advised to leave Rome. “I loved Rome,” he continued, “and having started on the high road to fortune, I saw myself an outcast not knowing which way to turn and with all my hopes blighted.” He felt that he was not guilty of any wrongdoing in trying to help the young lovers, but he realized that he never should have become embroiled in the affair as it could only harm his reputation and status. “But at my age and with my small knowledge of what misfortune meant, I could not have a caution which could only be the fruit of long experience,” he concluded.
These gardens offer a lovely place for such unsettled thoughts. Casanova left them, unable to determine a course of action. But I got to stroll these grounds with Adriano Contini that day and imagine young Casanova in turmoil.