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  • Writer's pictureJoe Nickols, MA

A Brief History of the Boboli Gardens in Florence

What are the Boboli Gardens?

The Boboli Gardens are enormous Italianate gardens with architectural, sculptural and botanic treasures dating back to the 16th century.

Boboli Gardens

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Boboli Gardens History

The steeply sloping land of the Boboli Gardens offers you a vantage point over the River Arno and the historic city centre, plus glimpses out into Florence’s still rural surroundings. The gardens cover 45,000 square metres of prime Florentine land. As the Pitti Palace once housed the city’s Medici dukes, the gardens were lavishly cultivated and adorned over many centuries. They became an outdoor repository for celebrated antiquities and sculptures of various eras, and were a template for many other such courtly pleasure gardens across Europe.

Their creation was spearheaded by Eleonora of Toledo, who had married Grand Duke Cosimo I in 1539. He had become head of the Florentine state two years before and was searching for a wealthy and powerful wife to add legitimacy and stability to the Medici rule. Eleonora was a perfect match, daughter of the recently appointed viceroy of Naples. The couple initially lived in the city-centre Palazzo Vecchio, though this had little outdoor space for Eleonora’s collection of rare plants. Consequently, in 1549 she purchased the Pitti Palace as her summer residence. Her time in the luxurious court of Naples inspired her to remodel and expand this new home and its gardens.

Her new gardens, which take their name from a family who had previously owned the land, were designed by architect Niccolò Tribolo and supervised by Bartolomeo Ammannati after Tribolo’s premature death. As you enter the green expanse, you’re welcomed into an elongated amphitheatre surrounding an ancient Egyptian obelisk, transferred from the Villa Medici in Rome. You’re beckoned along a central axis to climb the hill behind, dotted with sculptures, that culminates at the Fountain of Neptune. Created by Stoldo Lorenzi, this depicts the god with a particularly fork-like trident, which led Florentines to refer to the sculpture irreverently as the ‘Fountain of the Fork’. Cosimo de’ Medici had brought clean water to Florence and iconography related to the Roman sea deity became associated with the new ruler.

Once you’ve wandered along the many tree-lined avenues, a final treat awaits: the Buontalenti Grotto. This is situated at the northern edge of the gardens near the entrance to the Vasari Corridor, a covered passageway designed by 16th-century artist and writer Giorgio Vasari, which links the Pitti Palace with the Uffizi. Originally the grotto was part of the aqueduct that brought water to the grounds before Bernardo Buontalenti was commissioned to transform it into a characterful garden building.

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