The Villa was commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este in the 1500s, a young man that was named archbishop of Milan when he was only ten years old (of course his family’s wealth helped make that happen)! When he was 27, he was sent to the French court, where he became an advisor to the French King, Francis I, and in 1540 became a member of the King’s Private Council. He became a cardinal at the age of thirty. One of the wealthiest cardinals of the time, he was a patron of the arts. While he was a candidate for pope at five different times, he was never selected.
Tivoli’s altitude made it a popular summer residence since ancient Roman times. It is also quite close to the Villa Adriana, the summer residence of the Emperor Hadrian I. D’Este commissioned a prominent classical scholar, Pirro Ligorio, who had studied the Villa Hadriana and other Roman sites the vicinity, to plan a new villa and garden which would exceed anything the Romans had built. He obtained an abundant supply of marble and statuary from the ruins of Hadrian’s villa.
The nearby river Aniene was diverted to furnish water for the complex system of pools, water jets, channels, fountains, cascades and water games.
D’Este died on December 2, 1572 in Rome, and he was buried in a simple tomb in the church adjoining the Villa.