The Boboli Gardens

Piazza Pitti, 1, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy

You will likely see Bronzino’s famous portrait of Eleonora (or Eleanor) de Toledo, in the Uffizi, during your visit to Florence. The Spanish noblewoman who became the duchess of Florence in 1539 when she married Cosimo I de’ Medici was unusual for her time, playing an active role in politics and as a patron of the arts. Her patronage extended to garden design, in its infancy (at least in Europe) in the 16th century. Eleonora commissioned the Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace as a green escape from the city; they continue to provide a retreat for travelers today.

Among the earliest examples of the formal compositions that would dominate garden design through the 20th century, the grounds are dotted with classical statues and fountains while straight axes run up and down the hillside with an apparent disregard for topography. A moment in design history can be experienced first hand here. There’s a feeling that the man who planned the gardens (Niccolò Tribolo) conceived a formal plan and then simply laid it atop the site. Principles of garden design were later to shape city planning. The allées of the Boboli Gardens were early models for grand boulevards leading the eye to distant monuments. One of the pleasures of gardens, however, is that you don’t need to know their histories to enjoy the flowers in bloom or the sounds of birdsong and splashing fountains.

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Giardino di Boboli

The Boboli Gardens are a green oasis in the midst of Florence’s stony Renaissance architecture. Laid out on the hillside behind the Pitti Palace, this is a wonderland of fountains and statues, formal gardens, and secret lawns. Stroll along its grand avenues and winding pathways, and look out for the Neptune Fountain (one of two famous statues of the god, the other residing in Piazza della Signoria), Buontalenti’s fantastical grotto, the panoramic Giardino dei Cavalieri, and the statue of Cosimo I’s obese dwarf riding a turtle.

The beauty of Giardino di Boboli

Giardino di Boboli or Boboli gradens, is located a walking distance from Palazzo Pitti, in Oltrano area in Florence. The gardens, created by the Medici family, are dotted with beautiful sculpture that includes some ancient Roman figures, and some say these gardens serve as an outdoor museum, thanks to the sculptures. Giardino di Boboli used to serve the Medici family and there was no access to these gardens but only to the immediate members of the Medicis. There were no parties or any sort of entertainment. Therefore, the openness of the garden, with an expansive view of the city, cannot be taken for granted. Great for every time of the day. Highly recommended to have an afternoon stroll and pack a bottle of wine where it is permitted to drink.

Experiencing the Fantastic Hidden in the Boboli Gardens

When I lived in Florence five years ago, I designated Boboli Gardens the most magical place in the city. But during my last visit, I found I had missed several artificial grottos that made the whole garden seems even more perfect for a fairytale. The most important one is the Grotta del Buontalenti, a Mannerist-style cavern started by Giorgio Vasari, but built mostly by Bernardo Buontalenti (also the man recognized for inventing gelato). A facade flanked by the statues of Ceres and Apollo leads to three connecting rooms. The last room contains a green marble fountain, the fountain of Venus. The Grotticina della Madama and the Grotta di Adamo e Eva also reside in the gardens. Frescoes adorn the ceilings of the grottos, and statues of real and mythical creatures alike line the walls of these magnificent alcoves.

The Isoletto (Island Pond): Boboli Gardens

Located across the Ponte Vecchio, the Boboli Gardens provide a verdant refuge from the throngs of tourists in the historic city center. Nearly 1,000 acres in size they combine grand vistas and views connected by broad tree-lined avenues accented with dramatic sculptures and magnificent fountains. Designed by the Medici family the gardens are a powerful, yet peaceful, reminder of the important role of landscape design in Renaissance Florence. The Isoletto is just one of many beautiful gardens/landscapes within the Boboli.

A Quiet Corner of the Boboli Gardens

The grand Boboli Gardens are one of my favorite places in Florence, but they can be crowded. I like to start directly behind the Palazzo Pitti and climb to the top of the gardens. This section includes the Porcelein Museum and a small formal garden that overlooks the countryside just behind Florence. There I can enjoy moments of peace with beautiful views of typical Tuscan hills and olive trees. Entrance to the Museum of Ceramics is included in the ticket to the Boboli Gardens and is worth a short visit.

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