The Boboli Gardens are an historic park in the city of Florence. They were born as a garden of the Grand Ducal Palazzo Pitti, they are also linked to Fort Belvedere, a military outpost for the safety of the king and his family. The garden, which annually hosts over 800,000 visitors, is one of the most important examples of Italian garden in the world and is a veritable outdoor museum, setting architectural and landscaping for the sculpture collection, which ranging from Roman antiquity to the nineteenth century.
The gardens are behind the Pitti Palace, residence of the Medici first, then of the Lorraine and the Savoy, and were built between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, occupying an area of 45,000 square meters. The first setting of the Renaissance style is visible in the nucleus closest to the palace, new parts were added over the years with different settings: the long axis parallel to the axis of perspective building born of this avenue, from which the unfold gravel paths that lead in ponds, fountains, nymphs, temples and caves. Remarkable is the importance of taking in the garden statues and buildings, as the eighteenth century Kaffeehaus (rare example of rococo), which allows you to enjoy the view over the city, or the Limonaia, still in the original green of Lorraine.
The name "Boboli" may have arisen from the possessions of the Borgoli family, that were in the territory of the church of Santa Felicita Oltrarno. Luca Pitti bought them as allotments in 1418, forty years before starting the construction of the palace who bore his family's name.
With the passage of the Medici property in 1549 for the purchase by Eleonora from Toledo, wife of Cosimo I de 'Medici, began the beautification and expansion, which involved, off course, the garden. It was started by Nicholas Tribolo, the architect who, ten years earlier, had proudly worked on the gardens of the Villa Medici at Castello. Tribolo left a project with the amphitheater, the first axial perspective north-west/south-east, a natural extension of the courtyard of Ammannati, between the palace and the Future Fort Belvedere . The stone used to build the Palazzo Pitti was in fact taken from the basin of the amphitheater, that is artificial. Tribolo died shortly thereafter in 1550, then the direction of the work passed to Bartholomew Ammanati and then to Bernardo Buontalenti. During the reign of Cosimo II (1609-1621) the garden undergone the most great magnification, nearly tripling its size by Julius Parigi and his son Alfonso, the creators of the second axis towards Porta Romana (the so called Viottolone). The garden was opened to the public for the first time, although with proper restrictions, during the reign of Peter Leopold of Lorraine.
- Architecture and landscape
The gardens have an overall configuration of a vaguely elongated triangle, with steep slopes and two almost perpendicular axes that intersect near the Neptune Fountain which stands on the landscape. From the central axis paths, then develop a series of terraces, walkways, prospectic views with statues, paths, clearings, walled gardens and buildings, in an inexhaustible source of curiosity and scenic environments.
Among the various architects, excells the genial figure of Bernardo Buontalenti whom we owe the realization of the Buontalenti Big Cave, a masterpiece of Boboli Gardens. Behind the elegant entrance, supported by precious red marble columns, which dates back to the existing nursery by Giorgio Vasari, the Mannerist fantasy author has created three beautiful and amazing environments inspired by the theme of metamorphosis.
I have often walked in these gardens, so mysterious and fascinating. I can say I know them very well and, having often visited during the year, during different seasons, I took many photos of the various sections of these gardens. If anyone has seen the movie "The secret Garden", will understand perfectly the atmosphere of this vast park full of secrets and unusual and adorable landscapes...
1) The first axis
The main axis, centered on the rear façade of the building, rooms on the hill of Boboli, through a deep horseshoe- shaped amphitheater.
The Amphitheatre is one of the major architectures of Boboli's Garden. Used as a venue for summer performances (especially carousels and ballet on horseback broad stage), is the oldest theater in Florence.
The Boboli hill was used as a quarry of stone since the Middle Ages, for example the father of Arnolfo di Cambio had to extract the material for paving the streets. A deep hollow behind the Pitti Palace is already apparent in the siege of Florence Road in the fresco in the Palazzo Vecchio. Even for the construction of the palace Pitti was taken material from the nearby quarry. The work was started in 1550 (perhaps the preliminary work had taken place the previous year), expanding and regularizing the form the reservoir, with scores of geometric green, composed of oaks and, in the corners, cypress. The work was completed in 1551 when Tribolo had already disappeared and was replaced by David Fortini. Besides the evergreen thickets there were oaks, maples, beeches, limes and two groves of "dwarf fruit". The same year he was made a pipeline carrying water from a fountain at the center of John Fancelli's reservoir, carved in 1553. This decoration was replaced in 1576 by Giambologna's fountain of the Ocean, which now lies to the south, in the 'Islet of Boboli'.
In 1561-1564 Ammannati stabilized the original architectural building the retaining walls, the ornate cornices and other decorations in stone.
In 1615 the idea of the amphitheater "of greenery" was copied by Maria de 'Medici, the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.
The amphitheater itself: the old set was dismantled in the sixteenth century to create a more complex structure that, through various changes, is what we see today. In 1618 the fountain of the Ocean was dismantled to realize a second ambitious project to create a real theater with bleachers. The work was soon interrupted by the death of Cosimo II. Only in 1630, on behalf of Ferdinand II, he took up the project, which aimed to create a high masonry base, with seven orders of steps, linked to the audience by a system of internal stairs called "Boboli". In practice they could only construct the bleachers on the south side, being on the other side of a rock outcrop. The upper ring was decorated by gray stone niches that still exist, but moved to an another area of the garden, in the "orticini Buontalenti'. There were classical statues, statues inspired by Classical Times (like Apollinaris of Michelangelo, now in the Bargello) and statues of stone dogs that looked towards the palace.
By that year the project, to which had also collaborated Alfonso Parigi the Younger, was completed. The building was inaugurated in 1637 during the coronation of Vittoria della Rovere, wife of Ferdinando II de 'Medici, Grand Duchess of Tuscany: on that occasion was staged a carousel horse.
The Lorraine period
Later, however, the amphitheater was abandoned as a place of spectacle in favor of Italian opera of modern design. With the architect Jean-Nicolas Jadot of Lorraine, the audience turned into a parterre (a garden with geometric hedges), beautified with five statues taken from the Casino di San Marco. At the time of Peter Leopold there are minor interventions: the stairs, the kiosks and new terracotta pots placed between the newsstands. The center of the amphitheater was embellished in 1790 with an Egyptian obelisk, one of the oldest monuments across the region that dates back to 1500 BC (Long before the flowering of Etruscan civilization) and comes from Heliopolis in Egypt. It was brought to Rome from Egypt at the time of Domitian in the Temple of Isis, built in the Campus Martius; after being unearthed at the end of the sixteenth century, it was placed in the garden of Villa Medici in Rome. He was transported to Florence in 1788 for the Grand Duke Peter Leopold, when he gathered all the Medici's collections in town to decorate his palaces. In 1840 was coupled with the large gray granite basin carved from a single block.From the amphitheater there is a fine view of the back of the palace, with wings arranged around the courtyard of the Ammannati, and of the fountain of the Artichoke.The festoons are instead largely the result of the restoration of 1924-1926.
-The basin of Neptune
Higher than the amphitheater, is the basin of Neptune, through a double ramp adorned with three statues from Roman times: on the left Septimius Severus, a Roman magistrate on the right (each on a memorial stone), and in the center Demeter on a Roman base. The statue of Demeter is a Roman copy of an original greek, probably by Alcamenes, a pupil of Phidias.
The basin of Neptune, was created in 1777-1778 in place of a nursery. Here are gathered the waters irrigating the whole garden who have their source further higher, in the Garden of the Knight.
At the center of the basin stands the Fountain of Neptune, with the statue of the God of the sea rising from a rocky outcrop on which are also water nymphs and tritons. The main statue is the work of the sculptor in 1571 Stoldo Lorenzi and the fountain is called by the irreverent Florentines "pitchfork's fountain" because of Neptune's trident. Around the fountain, there are terraced lawns, sloping, similar to the amphitheater of which they reproduce the form below.
At the top of this area is a statue of Abundance (1636) by Pietro Tacca (in collaboration with Sebastiano Salvini), already begun by Giambologna in 1608. It is a work in white marble with gilded bronze sheaf of wheat. The figure has the appearance of Joan of Austria, wife of Francesco I de 'Medici, and was commissioned as a memorial to a deceased Grand Duchess. Originally the statue was intended for a column celebrating for Piazza San Marco, which was never realized.
In this area, the garden is characterized by defensive walls that extend from near Fort Belvedere, which stands on the left. To soften the view of the wall there are many trees, hedges and a variety of plants that create some picturesque alleys.
-The garden of the Knight
At the height of this axis, located south and out of phase with the city walls to mark the border, lies the Garden of the Knight, one of the walled gardens of Boboli, which is located exactly on a bastion of the fortifications built by Michelangelo in 1529, one year before the siege of the following year. In military architecture, the Knight was a structure built above of a rampart and from this derives the name of the garden. To access it you get on a strange scale, ie ramps and curves cross with a terrace built over a small circular room, this staircase was designed by Zanobi del Rosso between 1790 and 1793. The two statues that decorate the staircase depicting Flora and Jupiter both by Giovanni Caccini the young.
The garden is decorated with low hedges of boxwood that create geometric shapes and contain rare dahlias and roses, which bloom between May and June (but I've found the beautiful rose of the picture, blossoming in December!). The central fountain is called Monkey's fountain, by the three monkeys in bronze at the base of the fountain itself; at the center of the tank, the water gushes from a marble cherub.
Here you will find the casino of the Knight, a building built about 1700, commissioned by Cosimo III, where Cardinal Leopoldo de 'Medici kept his artistic and literary conversations, and where John Gastone had his retirement. The present form is simple, with walls decorated with painted frames and cornice decorated with terracotta statues and vases, are due to the arrangement of Zanobi del Rosso on behalf of the Lorraine, who used it to host the summer festivities of the court. Today it houses the Museum of Porcelain, since 1973.
The privileged position overlooking the back of the Boboli's hill still offers fresh views to the Tower of the Cock, with the agricultural lands with many olive trees, where it seems that the time has stood still.
Under the Casino of the Knight, there is a large store of water, called "basin of the trout", from which begins the pipes to irrigate the whole garden.
2) To the left of the first axis
Going back down the hill to the northeast, where there is the Statue of the Abundance, you will reach the Kaffeehaus, a pavilion with an exotic rococo dome with windows and terraces marked by string-courses by Zanobi del Rosso (1776) , at whose base, surrounded by a double staircase, where there is a little cave. The building, that now houses a bar, is in a highly scenic position and is also the visual point of the great avenue which is the second axis of the enlargement of the garden, ideally leading to the Villa Medici at Poggio Imperiale. From here, going toward north, you will arrive at the entrance of the Forte Belvedere, at the foot of the defensive ramparts.
-The lawn of Ganymede
Before the Kaffeehaus is the sloping lawn with the Fountain of Ganymede, the seventeenth century (instead of the marble group, today there is a copy).
-The garden of Madama
On this side, you will also find the little cave of the Goats or the Cave of Madama, built by David Fortini and designed by Tribolo. Decorated with sponges, stalactites and a marble basin surmounted by four statues of goats who, once, threw the water. The cave is located at one end of the so-called Garden of Madama, with some geometric flower beds, built around 1570 for Joan of Austria. The garden in front of the cave, featuring some flower beds bordered by hedges, is called the Garden of Madama.
-The Garden of Jupiter
Further down below there is the Garden of Jupiter, from the statue of Zeus seated in the centre of it, by Baccio Bandinelli (1556), while near the garden are two large statues of Dacian prisoners,ancient sculptures of the second century, already at Villa Medici; the two submissive barbarians with their hands tied and dressed in red granite is likely to come from the Forum of Trajan.
-The level of the building
Going down to the level of the building through a serpentine path used by coaches, one arrives at an area covered with gravel, where cars once stationed with horses.
Near the exit on Piazza Pitti is the Fountain of Bacchus, a grotesque example of the style so popular in the gardens of the period between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is constituted by the Nano Morgante's obese figure, the most popular dwarf in the court of Cosimo I, portrait by Valerio Cioli naked and astride a tortoise (1560). The statue is now replaced by a copy.
Slightly further still along the edge is the famous Cave of Buontalenti
-The Cave of Buontalenti or the Great Cave is one of the finest and most famous areas of the Boboli Gardens in Florence.
It was begun by Giorgio Vasari, who created the lower part of the facade, but its construction is mainly due to Bernardo Buontalenti, who built it between 1583 and 1593, commissioned by Francesco I de 'Medici. The grotto is a masterpiece of Mannerist culture and is a singular blend of architecture, painting and sculpture.
The external facade: the exterior of the cave heralds the bizarre and amazing internal. It features a large entrance between two columns surmounted by an architrave, with sponge-like stalagmite concretions above the capitals, which seem to be "cast" opening in irregular bezel top, where there are concretions similar to typical stalactite caves .
On both sides of the entrance are many niches containing the statues of Ceres and Apollo by Baccio Bandinelli.
The upper register, dominated from the opening above, is also decorated with two frames made of mosaics, with colorful pebbles, within which there are stucco with sea scallops and Capricorns. Even the gable is decorated by spongy concretions on each board, while in the center there is the emblem of the Medici. It is assisted by two female figures lying just below, made a relief mosaic.
The first room:
The first room of the cave is much wider than the other and is decorated, where pictorial elements, sculptural and architectural blend giving a sense of wonder and bewilderment.
The theme is the formless matter, the chaos, through the metamorphosis find order and harmony, a theme linked to alchemy so dear to Francis I. The walls, because of the rocks, stalactites, sponges, shells seem to be alive, composing an anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures. Only later the image is restored as the scene of a natural grotto in which shelter the shepherds (both made of stucco or fresco) defend themselves from wild animals.
The fresco paintings of Bernardino Poccetti blend beautifully with other factors, continuing up to the ceiling that is decorated like a pergola with illusionistic oculus open to the center from which filters the light. At the center of the room is still a fountain with a rock that once oozed water.
The second room :
In the second room, aligned between the first and third and smaller in size, we find the similar shells and it is all around decorated with stalactites and frescoes. On the side walls are painted Juno and Minerva by two niches with illusionist eardrum. At the center of this room there is the marble group of Paris carrying off Helen (or Theseus and Ariadne) by Vincenzo de 'Rossi (1560)
The third room:
The last room is well laid out like a cave with an artificial sky where the birds fly. The room is dominated by the fountain of Venus emerging from the bathroom by Giambologna, which rises above the marble basin on which climb the four malicious satyrs.
All the decorations can also be read according to an erotic theme that, though sublimated from mythology and philosophical schema, is too obvious to savvy for a modern visitor: in the first room the victims were stunned by the sense of the beautiful and grotesque, in the second issue of the kidnapped beauty, it facilitates attempts to approach, while in the third room the perfect nudity of Venus could provide the final goal of Beauty.
3) To the right of first axis
If from the garden of the Knight, coming down, we go instead to the south, before reaching the Bird Garden (inlet point of view of the second axis of the garden, or the Grand Boulevard) is found a second staircase flanked by hedges and decorated with two seated statues of the Muses. Soon there is the marble group called "Lavacapo" (1595-1597), by Valerio Cioli for Ferdinand I. From here you enter a field that follows from the basin of Neptune, where there are some buildings that once served as homes for gardeners, store tools and plants during the winter. Here lie the dense woods where they put out nets to catch the small birds.
In the shady paths that occupy the space between the amphitheater and the lawn of the Pegasus, surrounded by tall trees, there are two curious architectures covered by domes and partially buried: they are two ice houses of Boboli, the precursors of refrigerators. Here, thanks to the ice that were transported daily from the Abetone and the environment through which recreate the conditions of the caves, the food was stored for the grand ducal kitchens.
4) The second axis
The ideal entrance of the second axis is called the Bird Garden or "Uccellare" ("Uccellare" means to hunt small birds), located on higher ground and crossed by the Grand Boulevard.
This large meadow is surrounded by oaks and cypresses and it marks the border with the western part of the garden. At the center is decorated with a broken column, while on the one hand there is one of the few contemporary works of the garden: a monumental bronze head by Igor Mitoraj, remained in the garden after the exhibition in 2002. From here you can enjoy a stunning view of neighborhood Oltrarno, beyond the house of the Meridian.
- The Garden of Pegasus
Below the Bird Garden, crossed by zig-zag paths, lies the so-called Garden of the Pegasus, a hilly slope who brings back to the level of the palace, especially in front of the square covered with gravel of the Meridian building. This area owes its name to the marble sculpture of Pegasus, by Aristodemo Costoli 1865. There are other statues and a large pool of gray granite. The large trees that stand isolated and asymmetric remember the taste of the english garden.
-The Grand Boulevard
The Grand Boulevard (Viottolone) is a wide avenue in steep descent, flanked by two rows of cypress trees planted in 1637, and decorated with numerous beautiful statues, which marks the secondary axis (the six-eighteenth-century south-west) of the garden. The statues, placed symmetrically close to the crossroads with the three cross paths, they are both ancient (Roman) and of recent construction, mainly eighteenth century.
The area to the left of the avenue, once a maze, today has the fascinating serpentine road. In this area remains the central basin of the maze, now surrounded by an elliptical bed. The right side was dedicated to hunting and there is also the walled garden. On both sides of the avenue running two galleries straight suggestively surrounded by vegetation.
The beginning of the Grand Boulevard from the Bird Garden is marked by two statues known as the Greek Tyrannicides, before a backdrop of cypress and laurel hedges. Only the torsos came from ancient statues. The Alley is then cut by three side streets that create six compartments of the garden.
-The first cross-street
The first cross street is an oak pergola forming two tunnels with low stone seats on the sides. Before arriving at the main driveway, the way is marked by two statues; in perspective on the left there is a pool surrounded by an elliptical flower bed, which was the center of one of the labyrinths of this part of the garden.
At the junction with Boulevard, four statues were placed on each corner, all by Giovanni Caccini: Prudence, Aesculapius and Hippolytus dying (from Polyclitus), Autumn and Hygeia. Further, on the right is the Ocean Fountain (it is not the most famous fountain in the Isolotto of Boboli, by Giambologna). This smaller fountain depicts a young man at whose foot is a dolphin who pours water.
-The second cross-street
The second cross street intersects the Avenue at an intersection with three Roman statues, a Senator, a Bacchus and a bald philosopher, while a fourth statue of Andromeda is of the eighteenth century. Down the left, at the cross street near the city walls, we have the perspective view of the colossal bust of Jupiter Olympian, attributed to Giambologna (1560), on a sandstone. Beside the statue is also the curious "fountain of Mostaccini" by Romolo del Tadda (1619-1621), consisting of a series of small pools on different terraces connected by canals and masks who pay the water from one level to the bottom.
-The third cross-street
The third cross-street is on the south-west, from the intersection with the Avenue, and it branches in numerous, complicate and intertwined paths leading to the final segment of the garden. At the intersection of the boulevards, box trees hedges designe four exedras in which are placed many statues: Aesculapius, Andromeda, Ninfa and Modesty.
To these must be added the neighboring groups of players, according to the taste of eighteenth-century for peasants and commoners themes.
At the end of this avenue botanical furniture changes suddenly, disappear the cypress trees and hedges and it comes to the soft forms of the Islet, designed by Giulio and Alfonso Parigi since 1618. The square is surrounded by hedges of oak about 12 feet high, forming a backdrop to the many stone and marble statues depicting various subjects: mythological, historical, rural, commoners.
At the center of the square is the protagonist large circular bath, with the island in the middle connected to the mainland by two bridges. The great gates of the walkways are supported by two columns on each of which is the statue of a Capricorn. The sides of the columns are the fanciful fountains shaped as "harpies" men who pay the water in tanks shell-shaped, with a complex decoration of grotesque marine life.
At the axis, perpendicular to the Avenue, are four fountains , two on each side: the fountains of the Harpies and those of putti decorated with entwined dolphins, sea animals, fantastic masks and statues. Near these fountains, marble groups emerge from the water, bythe school of Giambologna (1637), of considerable charm: the Perseus on horseback (southeast) and Andromeda with his ankles chained to the rock (northwest); in particular the Perseus has placed itself as jumping out of water, an effect that was highlighted by the fountains. In the middle of the basin, the island is surrounded by a stone balustrade.
The center of the island is decorated by the fountain of the Ocean, by Giambologna, that consists of a base with bas-reliefs (The Rape of Europa, the Triumph of Neptune and The bath of Diana) which supports a vast, circular pool made of granite of the island of Elba , above which rises the group of sculptures of Neptune, surrounded by the reclining river Gods. They represent the Nile, the Ganges and the Euphrates, symbolically pouring their waters into the big pool, representing the ocean. The fountain of the Ocean is more ancient than this part of the garden and once stood at the center of the amphitheater of Boboli, executed for Francis I in 1576 and served as the prototype for all the sculptures of this subject.
-The Hemicycle or the Lawn of the Columns
Axis of the Avenue, by the small island separated by two trees marked by a symmetrical input neaclassico with small obelisks, is the large semicircular square of 'House or Lawn of the Columns, by the two red Egyptian granite columns that support many vessels white marble.
The House is surrounded on the curved side by a series of regularly spaced planes twelve green niches with statues (mostly busts of the seventeenth century). The straight hand side consists of a high box hedge of greenery with niches containing four ancient colossal busts: Jupiter Serapis, Jupiter, a male god and unexplained Emperor Claudius.
Remarkable is also the statue of Vulcan Chiarissimo Fancelli.
Towards Porta Romana
The tip of the garden behind the Chamber, is occupied by a roundabout with geometric hedges, where are located numerous stone statues like three grotesque figures of Romulus Tadda depicting Venus, Cupid and the personification of Architecture. Also interesting is the fountain of Botticelli, formed by a statue of a peasant who empty a barrel (of John Fancelli, 1560) in a tank made of a Roman sarcophagus.
Doctors were among the first to spread the fashion of citrus fruit in their gardens. Citrus plants are not growing normally in Tuscany because of the winters are too rigid, so they were actually considered to stragua of exotic plants. Their great ornamental value led to a collector of these plants, which had to find shelter during the winter indoors, in buildings dedicated just called lemon. To enable these "movies" lemons should not be planted in the ground, but in large clay pots. The lemon should have a mild but dry microclimate, so often the floor was dirt instead of school education, for better moisture absorption. The limonaia Boboli is located halfway between the Palace and the end of the garden. The result of conversion of a former factory of mosaics, statues and sponges, was built around 1778 and designed by Elizabeth Carter, during a general reorganization of the garden by the Grand Duke Peter Leopold. This site at the time of Cosimo III there was a seraglio of Animals, where they were kept exotic animals bought or received as gifts from foreign rulers (now stuffed giraffe and a hippo and the Museo
the Observatory), but also the animals in the kitchen.
The facade of limonaia is constructed by the regular repetition of four bays with four windows plus four upper windows separated by pilasters at the top is a scroll with festoons of fruit and a slightly projecting gable, the panels around the windows have a Color Rendering "Lorraine Green" also used in Kaffeehaus But unlike the latter, the color of limonaia has remained the same over the centuries. A long slightly projecting cornice above the doors concludes the elegant facade. The sculptures on the facade are the Muses, while in the front lawns are two museums and the group with a cornucopia of Fortuna, Roman works copied from Hellenistic sculptures, as well as the piper of Giovanni Battista Caccini.
During the winter limonaia is crowded with a lot of plants, especially citrus fruits, some of which date back to the Medici.
-The house of the Meridian
The Palace of Meridiana, neoclassical work started by Gaspare Maria Paoletti under the Grand Duke Peter Leopold in 1778 and completed by Pasquale Poccianti in
1822-1840, named after the meridian which crossed inside.
It is accessed from Palazzo Pitti and preserves frescoes with Scenes of The Betrothed of nineteenth-century painter Nicholas Cianfanelli. Currently houses the Gallery of Costume, but some years ago hosted Collection Contini-Bonacossi.
-The garden of Count
Adjoining the house is known as the Sundial Garden of the Count, closed by a gate and shielded by a hedge of oak and laurel.
Some photos of the most important places in the Gardens
To learn more:
For more informations and photos:
- Giardino di Boboli Tour VR
Giardino di Boboli, Florence, Italy, VR, tour, QTVR, QuickTime, virtual tour
- Varenya\'s garden: Boboli Gardens- Part II
- Polo Museale Fiorentino :: Official Website
The Official Website of the Polo Museale Fiorentino presents his masterpieces: Uffizi Gallery, Accademia Gallery, Palazzo Pitti, Bargello Museum, Medici Chapels, Boboli Gardens...
- [ Firenze Musei .::. Boboli Gardens ]