Off came my coat when I arrived in this garden of enchantment. I could hear, coming from behind the trees, the sweet song of the birds.
Dating from 30-20 BC, and adorning four walls of an underground warm weather dining room, these frescoes are the world’s oldest example of a continuous garden painting.
The illusionistic scenes (19 feet by 38 feet) portray birds and a variety of flowers, plants, and trees.
Strawberry trees, olives, oleander, cypresses, date palms, laurel, lemon, oranges and oak are all here, and perched in their branches or flying through the limpid blue air are parrot, blackbird, swallow, thrush, robin and many others.
This pleasure garden is on the third floor of Palazzo Massimo, my single favorite Roman museum, never crowded even in peak tourist season. Also not to miss in this treasure trove collection (with advanced lighting systems, good placards in English, and attentive curatorial detailing) are the superb Roman busts, mosaics, bronze sculptures, fragments from a shipwreck on Lake Nemi and the mummy of an 8-year-old girl who was found in 1964 on Rome’s Via Cassia. Palazzo Massimo, near the Stazione Termini, requires about two and a half hours for a relaxed visit and is open Tuesday through Sunday 9 AM – 7:45 PM.