with contributions from
Fabio Ciaravella, Daniela Cinti, Carlo Francini, Giorgio Galletti,
Biagio Guccione, Anna Lambertini, Luigi Latini, Tessa Matteini,
Emanuela Morelli, Emanuela Paglia, Ines Romitti, Antonella Valentini, Mariella Zoppi
© Copyright 2020
via de’ Pucci, 4 – 50122 Firenze
Guida, bilingue, 128 pagine
Through the Gardens
“The gardens of an era reveal its spirit and soul as much as sculture, painting, or writers’ works do”. Pierre Grimal
The intention of this pocket guide is to offer readers ideas for walking trips in Florence through the space and time of her gardens. It is organized in two sections, City Gardens and Itineraries.
The first section contains descriptions of eighteen places chosen to illustrate the complexity of the Florentine system of public gardens and green spaces. Historical gardens and heritage sites, components of the city’s extraordinary and substantial cultural and landscape patrimony, are flanked by recently configured patches of everyday landscape. The result is a measured but multifarious atlas of places that document the evolution over the centuries of the idea and form of urban gardens cultivated in Florence from the 1400s to the present.
Exploring a city through its gardens means moving from one place to another while walking on living surfaces modelled in both the short and long term by natural cycles and human transformations and by a succession of various cultural and climatic seasons. In a garden’s multiplicity of time “the eternalness – albeit relative – of stone” dialogues with “the fugaciousness of flowers”, in the words of Monique Mosser.
Each entry suggests a stage in the journey, and each stage has been interpreted as a primary node in an open, feasible circuit of urban walks to discover (or rediscover) Florence, a palimpsest city: a stratified system of living places, of traces, signs and stories produced by that continuous process of erasing and re-writing which constitutes its history.
As we wander through gardens, the pleasure of walking unites with that of discovering places where “nature has become thought” and seeing, understanding, and imagining which and how many kinds of gardens we could (should) cultivate as individuals and as a society in our times and the near future. To order the entries and create a narrative progression, it was decided to organize the presentation considering the chronographic sequence as well as the localization and distribution of the various nodes in the circuit.
However, by choosing to organize other visiting sequences, lengths and times and by freely combining the various stages also in relation to the seasonal rhythms of the gardens, every reader/explorer can prepare more than one trip for themselves and decide to follow a different fil vert each time, experimenting with alternative routes by combining other nodes to those shown. The book starts with the precious introverted space, considered a model formal city garden, whose design originated behind the walls of the Palazzo di via Larga, now Medici Riccardi, in the 1400s but which was re-adapted in the early 1900s, and then continues with the sixteenth-century Giardino dei Semplici, one of the first botanical gardens in the world, which was started by Cosimo de’ Medici to classify and collect rare and exotic plants.
After an engaging stop at the Archaeological Museum’s topographical garden which was created at the turn of the twentieth century according to the prevailing ideas of “antique ruins”, it is possible to visit the nearby Orti Dipinti, the first (and for now, only) community garden created in the historical center of Florence. Here the idea of a garden as a place to make social relations flower and share urban horticultural practices has been set down on an abandoned athletics track, which, in turn, had landed – regrettably – on top of a neglected historical garden, giving us an example of one possible interpretation of the contemporary garden-palimpsest. Another is the Third Garden situated on the bank of the Arno river near the Porta di San Niccolò. Along a portion of the river’s edge, this garden develops the theme of nursing the natural, where wild and evolutionary nature reigns. A project inspired by the poetics and humanistic-ecological practices of the renowned French landscape architect Gilles Clément.
Benefiting from a heterogeneous continuum of walkable open public spaces, we come to the base of the recently restored Rampe. From here we can proceed with the exploration of the nineteenth century innovations – which include, besides the Rampe, the Rose Garden, panoramic walks, tree-lined avenues and resting places that make up the Viale dei Colle system – created by the city designer Giuseppe Poggi in his plan to enlarge Florence when it was the capital of Italy and that were built with the vital contribution of Attilio Pucci.
Travelling through the gardens of the Oltrarno is a sublimely aesthetic experience.
Drop by the Iris Garden, organized in the late 1950s to host botanical exhibitions of the city’s symbolic flower on a panoramic hillside planted with olive trees. Linger in the Bardini Garden as you move along the baroque stairway or under the wisteria pergola after drinking in the view from the belvedere terrace. Stop in the Giardino del Cavaliere, an elegant gardenterrace overlooking the Arcetri hills from the highest point in Boboli. Lose yourself in the Villa Strozzi al Boschetto park, which was redesigned by Poggi in the mid-nineteenth century and saved from urban development in the 1970s by protesting city residents. Modelled on hillsides and situated next the ancient city walls with terraces and viewpoints, these gardens maintain powerful – sometimes startling – visual relations with the city. So much so that Mariella Zoppi writes in following pages that: “There is only one way to get to know Florence: climb her hills, enter into one of the many gardens and look at the panorama, keeping your gaze just slightly above the Dome’s lantern.” Gardens, congenial perceptual devices, are by their very nature places that promote an eye for aesthetics. As a primary node of the Florentine circuit through public gardens and open spaces, Cascine park cannot be missed. It was the first park to be opened to the public and was designed at the end of the 1700s by Giuseppe Manetti for Peter Leopold of HapsburgLorraine. Although from there it is a short distance to the Giardino della Ciminiera of the Manifattura Tabacchi or the Teatro del Maggio Garden, from a chronographic view of the current appearance of these places, it means skipping more than one time period. Because gardens are time machines.
Now we head towards the hill of Montughi that in 1875 Guido Carocci defined as “one of the vaguest hills close to Florence” and where the interconnected historical garden system of Villa Fabbricotti and the Stibbert Museum lies. As the garden historian John Dixon Hunt recalls, to get there requires strongly commanding your feet “since it is expansive and imperious, it cannot be confined but proceeds by extension and variety”.
The sequence of City Gardens closes with the Horticultural Garden situated at the beginning of Via Bolognese, which was started in 1858 as an experimental vegetable-flower garden by the Tuscan Horticultural Society. It contains a large Tepidarium, an iron and glass greenhouse that an enthusiastic visitor in 1880 described as an “extremely elegant construction that has no equal in Italy and perhaps not even in Europe”.
But this isn’t the end of your travelling tips. In the second part of the guide, there are some ideas inviting you to go beyond, to foster close encounters with other places and personalities in Florentine landscape history and with the surprising nearby contexts that make the Florentine hinterland so singular and inimitable. To learn more, five geographical, historical, and cultural Itineraries invite the reader/explorer to increase their awareness of the Florentine urban landscape, UNESCO World Heritage Site; to track the Arno through the city; to organize a tour of Medici villas as well as those in Fiesole. And to learn about the work of a renowned twentieth-century expert in garden and landscape projects: Pietro Porcinai.
The guide was conceived, written and edited as a collective work.
The thirteen contributors who authored it are scholars in art and garden and landscape history as well as project designers, 11 of whom are members of AIAPP, the Italian Landscape Architecture Association.
The difference in viewpoints, narrative style and research background that is reflected in the writing of the various contributions makes this volume a celebration of cultural biodiversity. A precious resource to be cultivated together with our gardens.