ROME: The Water Organ at Villa D'Este

Villa D’Este is probably best known for its stunning renaissance architecture and spectacular gardens. But this UNESCO world heritage site has another accolade to set it apart from the rest of its contemporaries - a fully working water organ. But this hasn't always been the case.

For an instrument designed to make beautiful music, its ending had struck something of a sour note. Villagers near the Villa d'Este, had embarked on a frenzy of destruction and smashed the workings of the 16th Century water organ.

They were upset because part of the internal workings of the organ - which uses water pressure to blow air through its mighty tubes – had failed, resulting in just one, highly irritating note being played continuously.

However, the famous water organ has now been given a new lease of life by a Norfolk craftsman who has recreated the organ wrecked in the villagers' attack in the 18th Century.

Rodney Briscoe, of Roydon has been making and repairing church organs for about 40 years, had to rediscover the lost art of making this water organ - which was built in about 1570.

"The water organ was one of the marvels of the Renaissance, but when it fell into disrepair, the skills necessary to maintain it had been lost," said Mr Briscoe.

"The organ works on a principle of creating air pressure with the suction of water plunging down a pipe. The water is channeled into a chamber, displacing air which provides the wind for the organ pipes. The organ's aim was to instill fear and get you to lead a good Catholic life."

Mr Briscoe said the principles behind this organ go back to Ancient Greece.

"Greeks and Romans knew of it, and the Italians used it for many things, but the technology was not written down and was lost. We built a model to prove that the technique worked as described in the contemporary sources, and then embarked on this project. It is a great privilege to be involved in a project such as this."

The organ has been constructed from stainless steel and bronze to protect it from damp conditions.

Architectural historian David Dernie, who has written a book on Villa d'Este, commissioned Mr Briscoe to make a model of the organ - which led to him being asked by Italian authorities to build a full-size recreation.

 Mr Briscoe is also working on the mechanism for another one of the fountains in the garden which plays bird songs. He hopes that this and the water organ will survive longer than the last one. Unfortunately, only time and the temper of villagers will tell.

The gardens and fountains at Villa D'Este were built by Cardinal Ippolito d'Este II, son of Lucrezia Borgia, and governor of Tivoli in the mid-16th Century.

For related articles click onto the following links:
How to get to Villa D’Este from Rome
Villa d'Este, Tivoli

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