Rooted in Italy: The World’s First Botanical Gardens

Orto Botanico di PadovaIt has been said (too many times) that all roads lead to Rome. But did you know that you could trace botanical medicine and even the environmental movement to 16th century Italy? It was here in the city of Pisa (1544) then Padua (1545) that the world’s first botanical gardens were set up.

This month’s Italy Blogging Roundtable topic is “roots” – a nod to spring. And what better nod to spring than to go straight to the garden? I’ve covered gardens in this blog before, from a mention of the reissue of Edith Wharton’s book Italian Villas and Their Gardens to Cortili Aperti, the “open courtyards” initiative that each year gives visitors a chance to check out gardens and courtyards at private estates. But I’ve yet to touch on Italy’s many botanical gardens, which are almost always historically linked with their cities’ universities.

The Orto Botanico di Padova is the world’s oldest academic garden still in its original location and it has been a model for all subsequent botanical gardens around the world. From the beginning, the mission of the Orto Botanico di Padova has been to collect local and unique plant life, maintain an herbarium for the study of plants for use in medicine, and educate the public on botany, horticulture, and the need for plant conservation. The Orto Botanico di Padova is one of Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, having been inscribed in 1997. The most famous plant specimen at the Padua Botanic Gardens is a Mediterranean Palm, the “Goethe Palm,” which dates from 1585 and was written about by Goethe. Additionally, the gardens have a library and a museum. The Orto Botanico di Padova is open daily from April to October; from October to April, it is open mornings Monday through Saturday. The current admission price is €4, subject to change.

An Italian visitor to the Orto Botanico di Padova took a comprehensive tour of the gardens and created this video:

 While Padova can claim to have the world’s oldest botanical gardens still in their original location, the city of Pisa was were the first academic gardens were founded. The botanist Luca Ghini, at the behest of Cosimo de’ Medici, set up the University of Pisa’s botanical gardens in 1544. However, the garden moved twice, in 1563 and 1591, before settling at its current location. My Italy Blogging Roundtable colleague Gloria has a beautiful post about the Orto Botanico di Pisa, complete with photos.

Italy’s botanical gardens don’t often make it on the tourist itinerary. But they are actually quite ideal, as most are located near the city center and often a quiet respite from sightseeing. Other Italian cities with well-positioned botanical gardens include Rome (near Trastevere), Bologna, Milan (it has three), and Palermo, to name just a few.

Read the posts, leave comments, share them with your friends – and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic.

Photo Flickr/Ned Raggett

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4 Responses to Rooted in Italy: The World’s First Botanical Gardens

  1. E Giansiracusa March 15, 2012 at 4:46 am #

    FYI – Rome: the Palazzo + Galleria Corsini, Biblioteca Corsiniana (first public library), and the Orto Botanico will be opening FREE to the public with a series of inter-connected and inter-connecting events, May 17-20.  Sign up on Palazzo Corsini site for updates.

  2. Susan Van Allen March 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    There is also the Giardino della Minerva in Salerno, created in the early 1300s, that claims to be the oldest botanical garden in Europe–set above the medieval center, with a lovely tea salon to sit and enjoy the view, and enjoy teas made from the garden’s herbs…http://www.giardinodellaminerva.it/

  3. Artful Archivist March 28, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

    Thank you for the lovely and timely post! I just finished a book that I highly recommend: Queen Elizabeth in the Garden by Trea Martyn. It is chiefly about the rivalry between Robert Dudley and William Cecil for the attention and affection of Queen Elizabeth expressed through her love of the garden. Padua is of course mentioned and Italy as the home and inspiration of the Renaissance garden. The descriptions of gardens and the fantastical displays and theatrics created for Elizabeth seem beyond belief. I hope one day to get back to Padua and the Veneto. I missed the Orto during my last visit. Ciao.

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