From the high piazza above the city, where a bronze copy of Michelangelo’s David keeps a constant vigil over the cradle of the Renaissance, the city seems to contain few green spaces, where visitors and residents can escape the narrow, crowded and ancient streets. Look more closely and you will find shade and beauty throughout the city on the Arno.
This post provides observations and details about many, though not all, of the wonderful gardens that exist above and in the city of Florence. Whether you are a gardener or not, these lovely green spaces offer a break for those visiting the city as well as for those who call Florence ‘home’.
If there is a ‘queen’ of Italianate gardens in the city, this is it. These gardens were established by Elenora di Toledo, wife of the first Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo I de’ Medici. Vasari (of “Lives of the Artists” and other Renaissance works of art) advised Barotolomeo Ammanati on the layout of the gardens. It was to the talents of Bernardo Buontalenti that the responsibilities for the sculpture and grotto were given.
Over eleven acres of garden now occupy the hill directly behind the enormous Palazzo Pitti, the home of all Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Throughout the 16th and 17th Centuries, improvements were made, grottos designed and small intimate and intentionally designed forests and plantings (Boscetto) were installed.
Today, visitors can wander freely, either after visiting the Pitti Palaces, home today to no less than seven separate museums (Palatine Gallery, Royal Apartments, Carriages, Costume, Porcelain, Modern Art and Silver). If you wish to only visit the gardens, there are two entrances, one off of the Piazza Pitti in front of the palace along the Via Guiciardini or along the Via Roma where a small side entrance near the Limonaia allows visitors to forgo the crowds at the Pitti and just enjoy the gardens.
Strolling through the shaded lanes and sunlit avenues of this garden is a step back in time, to a gracious and more staid experience. It is easy to imagine courtiers and the ladies-in-waiting as they made their way to private corners, secretly plotted the next move of a politician or sought intimate privacy.
Near the highest point in the garden, you can follow signs to a recently restored garden that graces a hillside above the Arno at the Giardino Bardini. More on that later. Today, visitors come upon an astounding sculpture by Igor Mitoraj entitled “Tyndareus Broken”. The presence of so modern a sculpture in the midst of the garden would see an anachronism, yet (leave it to the wonderful Italians) it fits right in; the eyes of a Trojan King, tied to the mythologies of Greece, watching over all.
On weekends, Florentines flock to the large green spaces for respite from the city, enjoy picnics, doze in the sun, or stroll through the gardens. This is one garden not to be missed. See “IF YOU GO/BOBOLI GARDENS” below for more details about visiting this unforgettable place of peace and tranquility.
It is difficult for me to realize how wild, literally, was this long stretch along the Arno River. Under Cosimo I de’ Medici, First Grand Duke of Tuscany, the garden was expanded to nearly its present form, nearly ten acres. The wide and lovely Stradone del Re, which parallels the main road on the norther side of the river, offers pleasant long walks on any day of the year. The park has become a venue for many other events, including a race track, yet the area nearest the city center retains a calm and serene air.
See “IF YOU GO/CASCINE FLORENCE” below for more details.
Spring in Tuscany, and above Florence the Iris,in the garden where more types of Iris than in any other place in the world, bloom. This is an easy visit, no charge. between late April and late May each year, the garden is open at no charge to the public. The entrance is just a bit below the level of Piazza Michelangelo above the city (famous for the view of the city and the bronze copy of the David by Michelangelo). If you are find yourself in the city during this time of year, go. It is an unforgettable experience, with views over the city and frramed by luxuriant Iris in full bloom.
See “IF YOU GO, IRIS GARDEN” below for further details, hours and dates.
It was only a few years ago that the Bardini Gardens were a bit of an eyesore above the Arno in central Florence. If you were to look up along the hillsides of the Oltrarno from the Ponte all Grazie, one bridge east of the Ponte Vecchio, you would have seen an overrun jumble, unkempt and abandoned.
After intervention by the Minister of Cultural Heritage, and a careful and loving five-year restoration, the gardens once again reflect the Bardini family’s intention that there be a place of beauty on over 4 hectares (app.nine acres) of gardens. Fountains, statues, and a lovely wisteria covered graveled alleyway combine to provide a gorgeous overlook of the city. The view from above the villa is one of the very best in Florence.
See “IF YOU GO/BARDINI GARDENS” below for further details about tickets and best ways to view this garden.
VILLA LA PIETRA GARDENS
Please note: These gardens are fabulous, private and require booking for tours. Please seen “IF YOU GO: VILLA LA PIETRA” below for directions to the villa, details about booking tours and entrance tickets.
This was a time of the grand tour, of an expanding Anglo-American community when Harold Acton and his wife procured the Villa La Pietra. For the next twenty-two years, the couple laid out and established what is one of the most gorgeous gardens in Tuscany. The Acton’s Will gave the property and garden the New York University who use it to this day as an extension campus for student and faculty.
The Acton Collection, which is displayed throughout the villa, contains over 7000 pieces of art, silver and other precious finds that the family
began acquiring upon their settlement in their villa.
There are few gardens and villas in all of Italy that can match the perfection of La Pietra. While not in the city center, the 1.8 mile taxi ride from the city center or the #25 ATAF Bus from Piazza San Marco, are more than well worth the effort!
And now, for a couple of the less known green corners of Florence. There are many, yet these are my favorite two places that often go unnoticed by visitors.
Along the wide expanse of the Arno River, and directly off of the Lungarno (along the river) Serristori, which ends at the Ponte all Grazie is the Piazza Demidoff. The prize of this small garden is the statue of Count Nicholas Demidoff, Tsar Nicholas I’s ambassador to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. The Palazzo Serristori, directly behind the statue in the Piazza Demidoff, was, at that time, the residence of the ambassador.
Following the sudden death of Nicholas, in 1828, the history of the monument’s completion became a long and rather tragic tale. The sons of Nicholas, Paul and Anatole, commissioned the work after their father’s death. Lorenzo Bartolini, a student of Canova, received the commission. Paul Demidoff died suddenly in 1840 before the statue was completed. Bartolini died in 1850, with the monument left unfinished. It languished until 1871 when a student of Bartolini, Romanelli finally completed the statue.
The site selected for the work was a small green garden located between the Arno river and the Palazzo Serristori, where it remains to this day.
This one of my favorite places to take enjoy a break. There are rarely more than a few people on the benches and, if you take a seat close to the Palazzo Serristori, you can enjoy the beauty of the monument and the park.
Open all year, free.
PIAZZA DELLA LIBERTÀ
Porta San Gallo, one of the many ancient city gates of the city, was located on the north side of the city. Today the large field that existed near that entrance to the city is the Piazza della Libertà. When the Dukes of Lorraine assumed control of the province of Tuscany, they erected a huge ‘Triumphal Arch” to celebrate their ascension to power.
When the city of Florence took on the mammoth task of creating a wide circular road (Viali di Circumvallazione) around the ancient city center, they chose this location as the northernmost point on that wide boulevard. It has not always been called the Piazza della Libertà. Through various periods it has been called Piazza Camillo Cavour, Piazza Costanzo Ciano, Piazza Muti. In 1945, following the end of World War II, the piazza was permanently named Piazza della Libertà or Liberty square.
The large square is often filled with locals who enjoy the opportunity to lounge on the grass, stroll with their families or simply make their way across one of the busiest road interchanges in the city.
Open all year, free.
GIARDINO DEI SEMPLICI
Located close by the Accademia (home of the David) and Piazza San Marco, this small garden offers yet another respite from the noise and traffic of the city. Founded in 1595 by Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici (his wife, Elenora, began the installation of the Boboli Garden), the space was initially used for research into medicinal herbs. It is a small space, enticing visitors to enter and enjoy yet another quiet and historical garden in the city center.
See “IF YOU GO/GIARDINO DEI SEMPLICI” below for opening hours and entrance ticket details.
PALAZZO CORSINI GARDENS
These gardens are always a pleasant surprise, even after visiting several times. Located within the walls of the gorgeous Palazzo Corsini, the gardens offer peace and quiet in the midst of the city.
It was in 1591 that Alessandro Acciaioli, a botanist, purchased land along the Arno River. He commissioned Bernardo Buontalenti to design a huge family palazzo on a parcel of that land. Financial problems caused the Acciaioli to sell the property to Filippo di Lorenzo Corsini. In 1834, after many years as a summer residence for that family, it became the permanent home of Neri Corsini di Laiatico and his wife Eleonora Rinuccini. The family continue to care for the villa to this day.
There is a small lake, a limonaia (where lemons are stored in the winter months) and a small boschetto (forest grove) that provides welcome shade during intense summer heat.
See “IF YOU GO/PALAZZO CORSINI GARDENS” below for opening hours and entrance ticket details.
—–IF YOU GO:
Entrance Ticket: Euro 7.00 per person
8.15 – 16.30 (November February)
8.15 – 17.30 (March)
8.15 – 18.30 (April, May, September and October)
8.15 – 17.30 (in the month of October when Daylight Saving Time ends)
8.15 – 19.30 (June August)
Entry is permitted up to an hour before closing time.
Closed on the 1st and the last Monday of each month, New Year’s Day, May 1st and Christmas Day.
The Grotta Buontalenti is open for accompanied visits, depending on the opening hours of the Gardens:
11.00, 13.00, 15.00 all year round;
11.00, 13.00, 15.00, 16.00 from March to September;
11.00, 13.00, 15.00, 16.00, 17.00 from April to September.
Cascine Gardens, Florence
Open twenty four hours a day, 365 days a year
Please note that, after dark, these gardens are not the venue to explore.
Open 25 April to 20 May
Hours: 10AM to 12:30PM and 3:00PM to 7:00PM
Entrance Tickets: Free
Bardini Gardens, Florence
You can enter the Bardini Gardens by following the well posted signs at the highest area of the Boboli Gardens or you can enter the gardens from the street level below Via dei Bardi, 1. The climb up is not for the faint of hear. It is much easier to access this garden from the entrance/high point near the Boboli before descending the city.
Costa San Giorgio, 2 – 50125 Florence.
Tel 055 20066206
Entrance Ticket: Euro 8.00 per person
8:15 to 16:30 (during the months of November, December, January, February)
8.15 – 17.30 (in March)
8:15 to 18:30 (during the months of April, May, September, October)
8:15 to 19:30 (during the months of June, July, August)
Closed on the first and last Monday of each month, 1 January, 1 May and 25 December
Villa La Pietra Gardens
Tours are offered on Friday afternoons (Villa and Garden) and Tuesdays mornings (Garden only).
Le visite guidate vengono organizzate il Venerdì pomeriggio (Villa e Giardino) e Martedì mattina (solo Giardino).
Villa La Pietra is open to the public for free two weeks each year during our Open Weeks. Open Week tours include an introduction to the art collection of the Acton family and the history of the Villa. The tour continues in the formal Garden, laid out in the beginning of the twentieth century in the Renaissance Revival style. Open Weeks occur on the third week of April and October. Bookings are taken beginning one month before each Open Week.
Palazzo Corsini Gardens
Via Il Prato, 58
Open from 9AM to Sunset. Closed Sunday and Holidays
Giradino dei Semplici (Orto Botanico)
Entrace: Euro 6.00 per person
Via Micheli, 3
Open (16 October – 31 March)
Saturday, Sunday and Monday 10AM – 7PM
Open 1 April – 15 October
All other days 10AM – 7PM
Festival days, closed: 1 January, Easter, 1 May, 15 August and 25 December