Getaways for everyday,,

Two historical parks for exploring culture and nature

Jessica Turpin
September 8, 2006

Boboli GardensPiazza Pitti - FlorenceOpen from 9.00am-4.30pm daily; closed on the first and last Monday of each month. Admission costs 6 euro. Accessible to dis-abled people. Le CascinePiazza Vittorio Veneto - Florence Open everyday. Admission free. Accessible to disabled people.

THE BOBOLI GARDENS The immense stretch of green that extends from the hill behind the Pitti Palace as far as Porta Romana is one of the largest and most ele-gant ‘Italian style gardens’ in the world. It reached its current extension and appearance through several stages of enlargement and reno-vation work carried out over the years. The Boboli Gardens, part of the Medici gardens at the Pitti Palace, was laid out for Eleonora di Toledo and Cosimo I in the 16th century. With the declining fortunes of the Pitti family, Buonaccorso Pitti, great grandson of Luca Pitti, sold the palace to Eleanor di Toledo, wife of Duke Cosimo I Medici and daughter of Emperor Charles V in 1549.

This extensive out-door ‘masterpiece’ covers a vast area of 320,000 square meters and contains a magnificent collection of fountains, grottoes and elegant statues. The gardens were designed by the famous landscape architect, Niccolo Pericoli (known as ‘Tribolo’). How-ever, when he died his work was continued by Bernardo Buontalenti (1585-1588) and completed by Alfonso Parigi the Younger (1628-1658).

Though during the 19th century, the Boboli gardens were slightly modified,  most of its beautiful landscape still retains its original creations. The Medici family had planned the area as a small township, enclosed by a long wall, for their family. Extraordinary and extrava-gant, the Medici royals employed over 200 servants to maintain this amazing oasis of green.

As one of the largest open spaces in the city, ‘Il giardino dei Boboli’ is most definitely a great picnic destination. These forty-five hec-tares (or 111 acres) of hillside park  owe their name to the Boboli family, the former owners of some of this land. Full of inviting walks, the gardens are among the finest classical parks of this kind and have various features worth seeing, as well as providing a beautiful view of Florence from the highpoint of the terrace of the Kaffeehaus (was added in 1775).

The quietest entrance is on the Via Romana. One of the most notable features is the Viottolone, a long avenue lined with cypress trees. There are many different elements that enrich the landscape, including a rose garden, fountains, grottoes, garden temples and statues of mythical gods and goddesses. There are also paths that will take you to a higher level, where you can enjoy the breathtaking scenery and some of the finest panoramic views of the city.

 

PARCO DELLE CASCINE The Cascine (or ‘farmhouses’) were part of the property which Alessandro and Cosimo I dei Medici purchased and turned into a game reserve and area for the rearing of cattle. The Cascine park is bound by three waterways of various sizes and importance: the river Arno, the river Mugnone and the Macinate canal (dug in 1563). ‘Il parco’, which covers 118 hectares of land, is Florence’s largest public park. Its history has always been closely bound up with that of the city: from the Medici to the Lorraine, and from the Kingdom of Italy to the pre-sent day.

During the Medici reign the estate also included a piece of land called La Sardigna, and an irregular rectangle of land between the Car-raia bridge and the Prato gateway. Possession of this land, both inside and outside the city walls, ensured continuity between the city and country life the Medici family led in the 16th century. When the Medici family line died out in 1737, the property passed to the Grand-Duchy of Lorraine, and the Cascine were used more as a place of leisure, for walks and for parties. In 1786, Giuseppe Manetti began work on reorganising the Cascine to create the large park, with furnishings and architectural elements of symbolic significance. These include the ‘Little Royal Palace’, the Quercione watering-place (also known as the Fontana delle Boccac ce), the pyramid-shaped ice store and the Pavoniere (two Neoclassical temples used as birdcages).

Although they were only opened to the public on special occasions from the 17th century onwards, it was during the brief Napoleonic interlude, under Elisa Baciocchi, that the Cascine became a real public park. In the second half of the 19th century, it became even more popular as a walking or riding place than other traditional Florentine destinations, such as Fiesole or Pian dei Giullari. In the early 19th century, Giuseppe Cacialli extensively renovated the park. In 1869, it became the property of the City of Florence and was again restored, this time by architect Felice Francolini. During the 20th century, this well-loved park became the venue for a range of sporting activities such as horse racing, tennis, target shooting, clay pigeon shooting, swimming (in the Pavoniere pool), and the home of the Faculty of Agri-cultural Science and the School of Airborne Warfare.

For all the changes it has witnessed over the last century, Le Cascine has lost none of their original monumental qualities. Vast prati, or lawns, bordered by a wood of Atlantic cedar trees, elms, pines, horse chestnuts, oaks and poplars, are still to be found inside the park, each one with its own individual name, such as Prato di Via delle Cascine, Prato della Tinaia, Prato del Quercione and Prato delle Cornac-chie.

This popular park is a favourite with joggers, horse riders and families with young children, especially on Sundays and Tuesday morn-ings, when it’s market day. Towards Piazza Vittorio Veneto on the park’s east side is an open-air swimming pool (used during the summer months), while to the west is the park’s amphitheatre, a popular summertime venue for dance performances and concerts. Horse racing takes place not far from here at the Ippodromo delle Muline.

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