Genius Loci = Spirit of the Place
"Consult the genius of the place in all. All must be adapted to the genius of the place and beauties not forced into it, but resulting from it." - Alexander Pope, 18th century Poet
Welcome to the Villa Gamberaia. A perfect example of Genius Loci. This Latin term used by the Romans was inspired by their belief in the protective domain of the ancestors and their connection to place - the land and the home.
They believed that every place had a guardian spirit and the symbol of the serpent was often used to depict the genius. Serpents were connected to fertility, rebirth and renewal, hence, water and landscape. They are prudent bearers of knowledge and symbolized this idea of the boundary of a property that is encircled and protected.
No place is without its Genius."
- Servius, Roman Grammarian, 5th Century AD
When I wander around a place like the Villa Gamberaia, there are moments when I just stand still, and close my eyes, waiting....for I don't know quite what. Breathing in, anticipating something, wishing to connect with this place. Many souls have lived at the Villa Gamberaia over the centuries and each caretaker has added his or her own "beauties" to its gardens and walls, but they have not been forced, as Alexander Pope advised architects in his day. Hence, the Villa Gamberaia's protective spirit is still doing her work of guardianship.
We can feel immediately when beauty is forced, when the integrity of a place is damaged because those who don't consult the genius loci fail to understand that the "spirit of the place" is essential to its authenticity.
I find it fascinating that the word, "ambiance" has its Latin roots in the idea of "to go around and encircle." No wonder the Romans used a snake to represent the genius loci!
So many places today have a feeling of forced beauty because no time is spent understanding, much less honoring its deep connection with the past, it's own "ancestry." There is no listening first, no being still, no connection sought, so genius loci flees and the place becomes "soulless" and disconnected.
On almost every tour I take with guests, we include a visit to the Villa Gamberaia. Even people who have come with me several times before, want to go again. We come to see something extraordinarily beautiful, yes - but it's more than that. We come to stand in the presence of genius.