If you have been in Florence, you have noticed that the city center is devoted to Renaissance architecture. But… wait a moment. Where are the trees?
If you have visited Rome, you can compare the two cities and you know that Rome seems to be a more verdant place than Florence.
Rome indeed is ringed by a girdle of trees, especially the classic Pinus pinea, the typical feature of the Roman skyline.
Florence is a green city too, surrounded by public parks and free-of-charge gardens, but you should walk away from the center.
Are you ready for the stroll?
Let’s discover with me the most beautiful public parks and free gardens in Florence!
Cascine Park (Parco delle Cascine)
Let’s start our journey in the best public parks and free gardens in Florence!
The Cascine Park is the main public park of Florence and it stretches over 160 hectares. If you are lazy, this is the perfect park for you: it takes 5 minutes from the center by tramway (Cascine stop).
In 1563, it was the hunting park of Cosimo I de’ Medici, a farming place for livestock and a dairy. The term “cascio” (it remembers the Cacio cheese) gave the name to the park, Cascine.
Between 1786 and 1790s, the Grand Duke Peter Leopold and then the Grand Duke Ferdinando III of Habsburg-Lorraines entrusted Giuseppe Manetti to renovate the Cascine and to transform it in a grand ducal park, consacrated to the public promenade.
The long, shaded avenues are a homage to the English parks and the Mall. The name “mall” derived from Italy: the “pallamaglio” (pall-mall) was a popular game played around 1600s in Naples, under the shadow of trees. After the match, people usually set up a market and sell their stuff. This is the historical origin of the Mall, the shopping centers of today.
In the Cascine Park, the architect Manetti built the Royal Palazzina (the present-day seat of the Agrarian University Department), the ice-house, the ornamental peacock cages, and two fountains.
The Cascine Park was inaugurated between the 3rd and the 5th of July, 1791, with splendid fireworks, spreading from an artificial mound, a reproduction of the Neapolitan “Vesuvius”.
The buildings laid out by Giuseppe Manetti enclose a lot of symbolic and allegorical meanings.
The ice-house is a Pyramid; the ornamental peacock cages are two Neoclassical temples; the two fountains are dedicated to Greek mythology and imbued with alchemical symbolism.
The enigmatic Egyptian Pyramid, used as an ice-deposit, was associated with the Freemasonry. Pyramids represented the union between Earth and Heaven. They were frequently used in aristocratic private gardens in Italy and Europe between the 18th and 19th centuries in order to allude to the belonging of the Confraternity. Don’t forget that in Florence there is a small museum dedicated to Freemasonry (Via dell’Orto, 7) and, most importantly, the “Loggia Massonica”, the seat of Freemasonry (Palazzo Altoviti, known as Palazzo dei Visacci, Borgo Albizi, 18). Famous Tuscan Freemasons were the writer Giosuè Carducci and the worldknown Carlo Collodi, the author of Pinocchio. The same Grand Duke Ferdinand III joined the Freemasons.
The “Pavoniere”, the ornamental peacock cages, were a typical feature of the Victorian age. Elegant and classy, they derived from the painted aviary of ancient Roman time and the “ragnaie” (nets for birds) of Renaissance age. If you would like to glimpse them, don’t forget your swimsuit: the “Pavoniere” built by Giuseppe Manetti are nowadays situated in the most glamourus “piscine”, the public swimming pools of Florence.
The two fountains were dedicated to Narcissus and Pegasus. If everybody knows the tragic history of the vain Narcissus and the heroic deeds of the winged horse Pegasus, few people probably know their connection with alchemy.
Narcissus symbolises the descent to the underworld and the return to primordial waters; whereas the bright flight of Pegasus symbolises the victory of the light over the darkness and the matter. Narcissus and Pegasus are linked in the alchemical journey of the initiates.
The Narcissus fountain inspired the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelly: he wrote the “Ode to the West Wind” in 1820. The Pegasus fountain unfortunately has been lost.
Finally, there is a touch of eclecticism more in the Cascine Park: if you venture further in the Park, you will find the “Monument to the Indian”, carved by the English sculptor Charles Frances Fuller in 1865-1874. The inscription is translated in Italian, English, Hindi and Punjabi.
Rajaram Chuttraputti, Maharaja of Kolhapur, died in a hotel room in Piazza Ognissanti in Florence in 1865, at only 20 years of age. The foreign community of Florence and the courtiers of the young Maharaja took care of the particular Brahmanic funeral: the cremation of the Maharaja took place in the Cascine Park, at the confluence of two rivers, the Arno and the Mugnone. This was believed to be an auspicious site for the cremation. And so, you know now the reason why a bridge in Florence is called “Ponte all’Indiano”.
Horticulture Garden and Parnassus Horti (Giardino dell’Orticultura e Orti del Parnaso)
The “Società Toscana dell’Orticultura” (Tuscan Society of Horticulture) was founded in 1854 with the purpose “to excite and promote the love and the taste for Horticulture in Italy through public exhibitions and prizes”.
The plot was purchased between 1859 and 1876; the works started around 1879 with the wonderful “Tepidario”, the glasshouse erected by Giacomo Roster and carved out by Michelucci factory in Pistoia. It was the first glasshouse in Italy, dubbed the “Crystal Palace” of Florence.
The 1880s were the heyday of the Horticulture Garden: internationally renowned for its botanical exhibitions, shows and events, it was the main destination for botanist, horticulturists, gardeners, scholars and students in Florence, from every corner of the world. In 1911, the architect Giuseppe Castellucci and the Ceramic Factory in Signa built the “Loggetta Bondi” in Neo-Renaissance style, paying homage to the “Loggia del Pesce” by Giorgio Vasari.
The Horticulture Garden unfortunately was damaged during the wars and officially became a public garden in 1930.
In 1990s, the restoration of the Horticulture Garden took place: the colourful “Serpente” (snake) was carved by Marco Dezzi Bardeschi on the rising terraces of the Parnassus Horti. The snake is the present-day custodian of the garden, as the ancient Ladon was the watchman of the mythologic Garden of the Hesperides. It also reminds of the myth of Apollo killing the dragon Python on Parnassus Mount. The Parnassus Horti are the evoking home of the Muses, a blooming, eternal garden of the arts and the knowledge.
From Parnassus Horti, the panorama over Florence is stunning! This is one of the best spot where you can admire “ i fochi”, the fireworks on June 24th, for the feast of the patron saint of Florence, Saint John the Baptist.
Nowadays, the Horticulture Garden knows a new Renaissance: the beloved “Mostra dell’Orticultura” takes place in Spring (from April 25th to May 1st) and in Autumn (usually on the first week of October). It is the most important floral event in Florence, vividly cherished by the Florentines.
The Tuscan Society of Horticulture organizes a wide range of courses: botanical watercolours and illustrations, gardening, olive-tree pruning and roses pruning in partnership with Rose Barni, the most important roses-specialized nursery in Pistoia.
Everybody is welcome!
Roses Garden (Giardino delle Rose)
If you are looking for flowers and panoramic views, this is the ideal destination for you!
The Roses Garden is the picture-perfect garden in Florence, open all year round and close to the theatrical Piazzale Michelangelo.
Founded in 1895 with the roses collection of Attilio Pucci, it boasts 350 variety of roses.
Furthermore, it is scattered with the sculptures by Jean Michel Folon (1934 – 2005), a naïf Belgian artist. The most famous is without doubts „Partir“: a romantic suitcase which frames Florence’s skyline.
If you are looking for an Oriental corner in Florence, you will not be disappointed: the small, refined Japanese garden, called „Shorai Garden“, celebrates the twinning between Florence and Kyōto.
It was laid out between 1998 and 2012 by the Japanese architect Yasuo Kitayama. It featured a cascade, rockery, stone lanterns and a small wooden Tea-House. The word „Shorai“ means both pine and future. The pine in Japanese culture is associated with the longevity. The Japanese onomatopoeia „sho-sho“ gently evokes the rustle of the wind in the needles.
But „Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose“, as Gertrude Stein wrote in 1913!
The most celebrated flower in the garden of course is the rose.
You will be surprised to know that Etruscans and Romans associated it with the mournful afterlife.
The rose was the symbol of the goddess Venus: it was born with the deity, as Sandro Botticelli painted. But the pale pink rose turned into red in a mythological episode: when Venus tried to save his lover Adonis, running in the wood, she stang her foot on the flower. The divine blood turned the flower from the pale pink hue to the red colour. And here you are the red rose!
The rose was celebrated in the architecture as well: you just need to think about the rose windows of Gothic cathedrals, for example. The concentric rose window alluded to the cycle of life. In the Middle ages, the rose was extolled in the controversial – and erotic – novel, the French „Roman de la Rose“.
If you suddenly desire to wear the scent of the rose, don’t worry: the Anglo-Italian society of L. Manetti & H. Roberts was born in Florence between the 19th and the 20th century. The British chemist Henry Roberts moved to Florence in 19th century and opened its „Laboratory“ on Tornabuoni Street, where he sold the „Acqua alle Rose“, the rose water.
Alfred Houlston Morgan inherited the „Laboratory“ in 1879; the pharmacist Lorenzo Manetti became the main business partner in 1921. The factory was situated in Florence until 1983, when it became part of the Bolton Group, in Milan.
Recently, the beautiful Italian actress Martina Colombari was filmed for the rose water‘s spot in the Roses Garden of Florence. (Did you see her skin?)
You can find the popular „Acqua alle Rose“ in every Italian supermarket. The price for the beauty isn’t always expansive, sometimes it is for every pocket!
But the scent of the garden, the dreamy view over Florence, and the breeze in the hair is free in all the above mentioned gardens.
So… What are you waiting for?
A lot of free-of-charge gardens, far from the beaten path, are silently waiting for you: the Medici Villas (Castello, Petraia and Poggio a Caiano), the Iris Garden close to Piazzale Michelangelo, and the Bobolino Garden.
Don’t be confused: the grand Boboli Garden of Cosimo the Ist of the Medici and his wife Eleonora de Toledo is a museum with paid admission.
But the Bobolino Garden, situated between Piazzale Galileo and Porta Romana, is free.
Have you ever seen a Calocedrus decurrens?
Better known as Incense Cedar, native to North-Western America, it an exotic and rare tree to see in Florence.
The newlyweds know it very well: the picture under the Incense Cedar is the must-to-do tradition on the wedding day in Florence.
This is probably the reason why rascal Florentines call it the „Cuckold Tree“.
Garden Guided Tours in Florence
Are you deeply passionate for gardens? Me too!
Visit the online section dedicated to my Garden Guided Tours in Florence and contact me for your tailor-made Garden Guided Tour!
I will be glad to show you the wonderful public parks and free gardens in Florence!
Giannoni, Francesco, “Il Viale dei Colli di Firenze” (Florence Art Edizioni, Firenze, 2016).
Maresca, Paola, “Giardini di Firenze” (Angelo Pontecorboli Editore, Firenze, 2011).
Maresca, Paola, “Simboli e segreti nei giardini di Firenze” (Angelo Pontecorboli Editore, Firenze, 2008).
Pozzana, Mariachiara, “I giardini di Firenze e della Toscana” (Giunti Editore S.p.A., Firenze, 2011).
Rinaldi, Niccolò, “Secret Florence” (Jonglez Publishing, 2017).