Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Oldest Botanical Garden in Europe

It's in Padua, mind you.
Founded in 1545 thanks to Professor Francesco Bonafede, who wanted to enrich his university seminars on the medicinal properties of plants.

I visited this Botanical Garden 222 years and 353 days after Johann Wolfgang Goethe visited it and was inspired to write about its palm tree, now one of the most prolific exotic tree types growing in Italy and the mediterranean.

The original is now housed in a gazebo su misura (custom-built).

These days, the huge old tree seems to be exploding in a big wild mess contained within some glass panes, but what is a palm tree still alive from 1585 supposed to look like anyway?

The great find on my visit to the garden was seeing so many university students using it as a research source. It's not just a tourist trap in Padua, which means a lot. It's original aim as a study center has been maintained over the centuries. Some of the first experiments in botany occured here. Now, there are corners dedicated to regional species that are endangered and students analyze the plants' properties before it's too late. Other areas cultivate exotic plants (including North American varieties which is funny to see as "exotic", like a maple tree). Medicinal ones are kept in still other sections.

At one time, the university students had to take exams by going around the garden and producing the correct names of the various plants which their professors pointed to. Now that kind of visual memorization is no longer necessary. In its place, carefully handwritten signs denomiate the plant species for students and tourists. In the US, you would NEVER see handwriting in this situation. Here is a picture showing the name and Bolivian origin to some giant lily pads.

A pink lily in bloom

A cactus detail

Agave and aloe plants first came to Europe from Mexico through this garden. Other plants which are taken for granted by today's Italians but which came from other continents include the sunflower, tulip tree, lilac and hyacith.

A tree that has seen dozens of wars and survived bombing this past century, exposes its inner belly.

A historical evolution of the garden:

The original plan for the garden. Each quadrant of plants formed a different design.

16th century pillars had very clear rules inscribed for its visitors as follows:

1. Do not knock at this gate before the date of St. Mark the Evangelist (25 April) or before 10 o'clock in the morning.
2. Whoever enters from the decumen gate must not go far from it.
3. In the garden, do not break off stalks, pick flowers, remove seeds of fruit or dig up roots.
4. Do not tread on small plants.
5. Do not damage the garden in any way.
6. Do not do anything against the Prefect's will.
7. Trespassers will be punished with fines, prison or exile.

The first enclosing walls were built in the 17th century to protect the plants from being stolen during the night.


When Padua's upperclass wanted to meander through beautiful gardens in their lovely attire on a Sunday afternoon, they decided to revamp the botanical one here in the shadows of St. Justine. The 1800's brought a flourish of decoration, statues, fountains above and around the circular walls of botanical garden and additional garden areas. The busts feature famous botanists.


In 1997, Padua's Botanical Garden was inducted into the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Some more pictures of "my walk in the park" in the Botanical Garden.

Via Orto Botanico, 15
35123 Padova - ITALY

tel. +390498272119
fax. +390498272120


April-October: every day 9.00 a.m. - 1.00 p.m., 3.00 - 7.00 p.m.
November-March: 9.00 a.m. - 1.00 p.m. (closed on public holidays)


4€ regular
3€ reduced price
1€ students


  1. Looks pristine... Is it completely open to the public/free?

  2. Thank you for reminding me to include prices!