I’ve been saving and savoring the article “An Ancient Tuscan Farm Turned Magical Bohemian Home” from the June 27th issue of The New York Times Style Magazine. The piece tells the story of a 15 acre farm overlooking Florence that has been active since the Middle Ages. It reminded me of the day I spent visiting the Bardini and Boboli Gardens and exploring a greenway that is in the process of being developed on the periphery of the city.
Visiting Florence can be an overwhelming experience. Not only is there a magnificent work of art or architecture (or both) around every corner but it is also extremely crowded. If, like me, you are always looking for an easily accessible park or garden in which to recharge, in Florence you may be challenged to find one.
The greenway, which I discovered while at the Bardini Garden, provides something quite different – a new way in which to experience the city and view both gardens as cultural landscapes integral to its historic fabric.
Portions of the greenway follow the city wall and walking its route the natural world coexists in close proximity to the city’s medieval core.
The greenway map below is from the guide to the Bardini Garden and uses that site as a starting point. The guide describes the greenway as an opportunity to follow the mineral and stone deposits within the city and as an alternative to the tourist network whose “mesh gets ever tighter.”
Occupying a steep hill overlooking Florence, the Bardini Garden has a storied history as a private estate that has been owned and managed by the Bardini family since 1913. Its original use as a garden is described as a “hortus conclusus” or an enclosed area close to the house used primarily as an orchard.
As the property evolved its rural character was formalized with gardens designed and redesigned to reflect the changing tastes of its owners. Architectural features that were added include a rustic grotto, belvedere, theater and Kaffeehaus.
By the 19th century a portion of the Giardino Bardini was transformed into an Anglo-Chinese garden and is described as featuring a lake, waterfall, fountain, and a Kaffeehaus with a round salon and grotto. One if the garden’s most prominent features, a dramatic staircase from the terrace below the palazzo, connects the Belvedere to the Piazza Dei Mozzi.
With a spectacular view of the city below, the garden has been included in guidebooks to Florence. Restoration on the garden began in 2000 and today it is admired for its extensive botanical collection which is designed thematically to provide seasonal interest.
The neighboring Boboli Gardens, through which the greenway passes, are named for the wooded area adjacent to the city’s ramparts they once occupied.
Located behind the Pitti Palace, the 111 acre garden’s tree-lined allées, formal spaces, fountains, sculptures and woodlands are described as the greatest open-air museum in Florence.
A testament to royal garden making at its finest, for more than 400 years the Boboli Gardens have been designed and redesigned beginning with the early partnership of Eleonora of Toledo, wife of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici and artist Niccolo Pericoli, known as “Il Tribolo” whose design was realized, to a large degree, by successive overseers including Giorgio Vasari.
Within the Boboli Gardens are multiple structures including several grottos, a lemon house, a Kaffehaus and the Knight’s Garden and Lodge. The Lodge’s garden, designed by Michelangelo in 1529, includes medicinal plants. The Lodge, a meeting place for scholars and scientists until the late 18th century, houses the Porcelain Museum.
Staying within the Boboli Gardens, one can follow the Florence Greenway to the highly ornate Island Pond, with its plethora of statuary each depicting a mythological scene. The surrounding area contains nearly 200 potted citrus trees and an ancient rose garden surrounded by flower beds.
From there the aptly named Meadow of Columns leads to an entrance gate.
Should one walk outside of the Boboli Gardens along the Via Romana there is an opportunity to visit some of the green spaces in the neighborhood including the Corsi Annalena Garden, the first example of a Romantic Garden in Florence. Close by is the Torrigiani Garden, the largest private European Garden built within the walls of a city. Both are open by appointment.
Passing through the Porta Romana, the gate to the city, one can either pass through the Royal Stables, now the State School of Art, or enter directly onto the Viale Niccolo Machiavelli, a circuitous tree-lined boulevard that passes through a series of residential neighborhoods.
The Viale Machiavelli has a gracious sidewalk and along its route are several public parks.
A landmark of sorts along the route is the Piazzale Galileo after which one follows the Viale Galileo which leads to the Basilica di San Minato al Monte (Basilica of St. Minias on the Mountain) described as the finest Romanesque structure in Tuscany. It sits atop one of the highest points in Florence.
Close by is the popular tourist destination Piazzale Michelangelo.
While most appear to drive to the Piazzale Michelangelo, where there is ample parking, one can continue their journey on the greenway down a series of steps where they will reconnect with both the city walls and the Bardini Garden.
The Florence Greenway is several kilometers in length and one can easily spend a day following its route.
When I was there directional signage had yet to be installed and for a good part of the greenway there wasn’t a tourist in sight.
Walking the Florence Greenway provides an unparalleled opportunity to explore the city in a new way. While many cities strive to create such an experience in Florence it already exists and the only secret is finding a map of its route.
Copyright © 2016 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved