In 1550 Cardinal Ippolito d'Este was appointed Governor of Tivoli. He wasted no time in taking possession of the Governor's palace, located in a former Benedictine monastery which he asked Pirro Ligorio to remodel to his taste.
The Villa d'Este's fame, however, is due more to its gardens than to the building itself. Each alley, path or avenue reveals a new mossy fountain in a carefully landscaped vista: there are supposed to be five hundred fountains altogether. This most famous of Italian-style gardens, which has been widely imitated, reverberates with the sound of so many fountains that it inspired the Romantic composer Franz Liszt to write a piano suite called "Fountains of the Villa d'Este".
To clear space for the gardens a whole area of the town had to be demolished, many inhabitants being forced to sell or face expropriation. Due to the steepness of the terrain, enormous earth-moving works were undertaken in order to create alternating terraces and slopes. In addition, the site had an irregular shape.
The overall layout, designed to be seen from the original entrance at the foot of the hill, had to achieve two main purposes: to create the illusion that the villa was centrally placed (it is in fact slightly off-center) and to set it back by visually increasing the depth of the property.
The means chosen to achieve this were unusual for the time. A central alley prolonging the loggia, known as the Avenue of Perspectives, was made to intersect with five paths linking the monumental fountains; these were mostly positioned toward the sides to give the effect of an enclosure in relation to the surrounding landscape.