Rooted in Italy: The World’s First Botanical Gardens

It 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

Two New World Heritage Sites in Italy

Mantua/Sabbioneta are new UNESCO Heritage Sites
Mantua/Sabbioneta are new UNESCO Heritage Sites

Time to add two more Italian sites to the UNESCO World Heritage List. In July, UNESCO inscribed the Po Valley towns of Mantua and Sabbioneta and the Rhaetian Railway, which passes through the Swiss Alps into Tirano, Italy. Both new sites are located in the region of Lombardy.

Mantua (Mantova) and Sabbioneta were selected for their Renaissance town planning, with the former being an example of an irregular layout while the latter “represents the implementation of the period’s theories about planning the ideal city.” The Rhaetian Railway, which was opened in 1904, and made the list because it is an outstanding example of architecture.

Now with 43 city centers, monuments, and other cultural locations on the UNESCO List, Italy is one of the leading countries of “World Heritage” sites. And many more sites are vying for UNESCO status and monies. Perhaps next to be inscribed will be the Medici Villas, the incredibly lovely town of Orvieto, or the Historic Centre of Lucca. We’ll keep you posted!

Italy’s UNESCO Heritage Sites – All in One Place

So, you’ve made it all the way to Rome but wish your vacation time allowed you to visit the other 40 UNESCO Heritage Sites in Italy? Have no fear!

According to the U.K.’s Italy Magazine, an exhibit of 120 photographs of Italy’s heritage sites will be on display at the Central National Library. The exhibition will give you a chance to see the Trulli of Alberobello (in Puglia, as pictured above), the beauty of the Amalfi Coast, and the historic center of the ideal Renaissance cities of Urbino and Pienza.

The exhibit at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma runs through March 14. The library is located at Viale Castro Pretorio 105 (Metro linea B, Castro Pretorio), just a few blocks from the Termini train station.