Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Florentine Versailles: the Boboli Gardens

Visitors to Florence usually go to the galleries and palazzos before anything else. There is so much amazing art to see, we want to study at the feet of the masters. There is astonishing classical architecture, spanning thousands of years. But often we forget that other man made accomplishment: the gardens.

The Boboli Gardens are the vast and hilly palace gardens of the Palazzo Pitti, the residence of the Medici Grand Dukes from 1549. Originally built in 1457 for an influential Florentine banker, the palace sits across the river Arno from the Palazzo Vecchio, the original Medici residence.

Giusto Utens, 'Firenze com'era'

The Boboli Gardens rival Louis XIV's famous pleasure gardens at Versailles, being almost as large but much older. To reach them, we crossed the courtyard and entered a low, dark staircase, emerging into a bright afternoon paradise.

The gardens are laid out in a strict neoclassical style, beginning with an amphitheatre surrounding an original Egyptian obelisk.

On the upper levels there are maze-like hedges, forming paths.

Sometimes the paths lead to sunny vineyards...

...sometimes they lead to secret corners displaying pieces of ancient history.

Behind the bars in this alcove are the half-sunken remains of the original Roman wall that surrounded the city.

The most famous avenue is the Viottolone, a long, sloping gravel road lined with cypress and beautiful statuary, that leads down a steep hill to the Fountain of Neptune.

At the Fountain of Neptune we were greeted by one of the residents, a stately blue heron. The gardens are home to a surprising number of bird species; the tourist centre sells a guidebook just for bird watching.

We dawdled in our favourite place, the Giardino del Cavaliere, until closing time...but more on that in a future post! We were sad to leave, but the Boboli Gardens left lasting images that will inspire us for years.

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