Florence is an amazing city which can surprise you at every turn.
This time, we will discover the secret gardens of Florence. They are the most unconventional gardens of the city. Our journey will take you to the secluded Corsi Annalena Garden and the romantic Torrigiani Garden in the neighborhood of Oltrarno; then we will venture to the intellectual Orti Oricellari and the Corsini al Prato Garden, in the neighborhood of Santa Maria Novella.
Are you ready for your Florence secret gardens private tours?
Corsi Annalena Garden: the secret garden of Florence
Corsi Annalena Garden
Can you imagine a half-hectare of verdant nature in the heart of Florence, completely hidden by the walls, and just a few steps from Pitti Palace?
Corsi Annalena Garden is the shyest garden of Florence: nestled between Via de’ Serragli, Via de’ Mori and Via Romana, it is impossible to see it from outside.
Its history began in 1441, when Countess Anna Elena founded the Monastery of San Vincenzo. Anna Elena was the daughter of Count Galeotto Malatesta and the wife of Baccio d’Anghiari, killed during a conspiracy masterminded by Cosimo the Elder of the Medici family. The widow decided to retire from public life and founded a cloistered order, named Annalena.
The monastic plot was transformed during the XVI century by the Grand Duke Cosimo Ist of the Medici. He built part the fortification walls during the war between Florence and Siena. The Grand Duke could move through an underground passageway connecting Boboli Garden, Torrigiani Garden and Annalena Garden. Traces of the passageway still exist nowadays.
In 1790, the Marquis Tommaso Corsi purchased the plot. In the first decade of 1800s, he entrusted from the architect Giuseppe Manetti the renovation of the garden. Manetti laid out the first English style Landscape Garden of Florence in a very tiny space: he managed both to broaden the view in the small garden and to isolate it from the surrounding city buildings.
Corsi Annalena Garden
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Corsi Annalena Garden features two main elements: a large elliptical parterre surrounded by a box hedge and the terrace garden. In the 19th century, the terrace garden provided a bucolic view over Florentine hills and the countryside. The most astonishing feature of the Corsi Annalena Garden is the ornamentation: the Neoclassical statuary, the terracotta statues of the Muses, and the exedra-shaped bench in local sandstone “pietraserena” are elegant and graceful. A marble inscription is dedicated to friendship and bears the following words: “The wise should subdue to the fate”.
The plantings consist of laurel and viburnum; the trees are mostly cedars and magnolias. Between Via de’ Mori and Via Romana, Giuseppe Manetti built in 1810 the “Tempio del Canto”: it is a Neoclassical temple with refined decoration, the god Mercury in a niche, the “genies”holding a lyre and a laurel wreath, and the dancing maids.
Corsi Annalena Garden is a contemplative garden for meditation and reflection, far from the worldy life, the last Arcadian dream in Florence.
Torrigiani Garden: the biggest private English style Landscape Garden of Florence
With its seven hectares, Torrigiani Garden is the biggest private park of Florence and the biggest private park in the city center in whole Europe.
Situated between Via dei Serragli, Via del Campuccio and Via Gusciana, it was entrusted by the Marquis Pietro Torrigiani from the architect and garden designer Luigi de Cambray Digny in 1813 as a Landscape Garden.
Both the marquis and the architect were members of the Freemasonry. The garden was laid out in the fashionable English Landscape Garden style.
A guided book of the garden was written in 1824 (as in Stowe, England, in 1730s). But the symbolic Masonic garden circuit was not clearly explained.
Torrigiani Garden features winding paths and sweeping lawns, gentle rolling artificial hills, groves and a collection of rare and exotic trees.
At the entrance, the Egyptian god Osiris warns the visitor: “Dogs, horses, and carriages are not allowed. It is forbidden to touch plants, flowers, minerals. Games without previous permission are not allowed. It is mandatory to walk on the paths only.”
The garden features a formal garden and a recently renovated 19th century “Limonaia”, the Italian word for orangery, and a nursery. Serre Torrigiani provides nowadays plants for shows and events in and outside Florence.
Torrigiani Garden is embellished with statuary; some scultpures are reminescent of Rousham, laid out by William Kent in England. The “Tempietto dell’Arcadia” is a mysterious shrine dedicated to the Arcadia, the symbol of pastoral life. A circular lawn is the oldest feature of the property: it was a kind of hippodrome, now furnished with benches, pots and statues.
Follies are present in Torrigiani Garden as well: the Gymnasium, the Aviary, the Bridge on Ladon stream, the “Chinese Scale”, and a Neo-Gothic Tower built by Gaetano Baccani. It was used as a library and an astronomical observatory. Its shape should evoke the coat-of-arms of Torrigiani family.
Some follies unfortunately have been lost, for example the outlandish Merlin’s Cave (William Kent built one Merlin’s Cave for Queen Caroline at Richmond Estate in 1730s).
The symbolic garden circuit of the 19th century was dedicated to alchemy, an allegoric journey from the darkness of the death to the renaissance of the soul. It was called “nigredo” and it started with the Egyptian statue of Osiris, the god of death and resurrection. Then, the journey of the garden visitor proceeded through the dark forest, the “selva oscura”, as Dante wrote in the Middle Ages, to a mysterious grotto dedicated to the god Saturn, the deity of time and death. After this gloomy journey, the atmosphere changed in the garden: the visitor arrived to a bright and serene area. He was welcomed by the statues of Asclepius, the god of medicine, and his daughter Hygieia, the goddess of cleanliness. The journey finished at the octagonal Neo-Gothic tower, according to the symbolic path of Freemasonry, “ex tenebris lux”. The octagon was associated with the resurrection.
According to legend, Marquis Pietro Torrigiani built the tower in order to better admire the Cemetery of Porte Sante, behind San Miniato al Monte Church, where his lover was buried.
Other statues in Torrigiani garden include “Seneca with the young Pietro Torrigiani”, carved by Pio Fedi, and a column dedicated to the famous botanist Pier Antonio Micheli.
The garden is dotted with ancient cedar trees (Cedrus Libani, Atlantica and Deodora), oaks, horse chestnuts, cypresses, magnolias, plane trees and a rare Fagus Tricolor.
A lot of foreign Grand Tourists visited and praised Torrigiani Garden in the 19th century: the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, Earl Larish from Austria, the art historian Lord Alexander Lindsay, the American painter John Singer Sargent, the writer and musician Caroline Sheridan Northon, Lady Charlotte Campbell, and Maryanne Chichester.
Orti Oricellari: the intellectual circle and the necromancy’s parties
The Orti Oricellari are situated between Via della Scala, Via Rucellai, Via Palazzuolo and Via degli Orti Oricellari.
The strange name “Oricellari” derives from the dyeing woad herb “oricella”.
According to legend,the merchant Alemanno del Giunta discovered the herb “oricella” in one of his journeys to the Far East. He was looking for a public toilet but he couldn’t find it, so he hid in a grove. When the urine touched the grass, it turned it into purple! The magic herb was called “oricella”. Alemanno del Giunta carried the “oricella” herb to Florence and he set up a business: the clothes soaked in the herb and in the urine were dyed. Wealthy Florentines could wear purple clothes! Alemanno del Giunta became famous and moneyed: he changed his surname in Oricellari (but it was a bit weird, because it remembered the urine), and then in Rucellai (more elegant!). The herb gardens of “oricella” were situated along Via degli Orti Oricellari, in Florence.
In the Quattrocento, the Rucellai were one of the most powerful families of Florence. Bernardo Rucellai married Lucrezia, better known as Nannina de’ Medici, the sister of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
After the death of the Magnificent in 1492, Bernardo and Nannina transferred the Neoplatonic Academy from Careggi Medici Villa to their garden and they called it Orti Oricellari, inspired by ancient Roman Horti. The Orti Oricellari became an intellectual circle: Niccolò Macchiavelli, Zanobi Buondelmonti, Jacopo da Diacceto, and Luigi Alamanni were frequent guests.
In 1573, Bianca Cappello, the lover of Francesco Ist of the Medici, and later his wife and Grand Duchess of Tuscany, purchased the Orti Oricellari. She liked entertaining guests and she often organised necromancy’s parties: the writer Celio Malaspina described it in a novel. Harmless guests were invited at dinner, but they fell in a hidden dip! Thirty people dressed as demons were waiting for them in the dip. Bianca Cappello, in order to be forgiven by her guests, later offered them a stroll in company of beautiful naked girls, just covered by pearls, diamonds, sapphires and rubies.
In 1640, the property passed to Cardinal Giovan Carlo de’ Medici. The Cardinal loved enjoying life and cultivating flowers: his favourite pastime was to give his lovers’s names to the exotic flowers of the garden.
He entrusted an enchanting grotto from Alfonso Parigi and Ferdinando Tacca. The underground grotto was dedicated to the four alchemical elements: the air, the water, the earth, the fire. It was embellished with limestone, sponges, and paintings. The fire was evoked in the Stove Room or Icarus Room, a thermal bath where Cardinal Giovan Carlo loved basking in. Antonio Novelli, a pupil of Giambologna, sculpted a giant statue of Polyphemus, the son of Poseidon, god of the sea (the statue still exists).
The grotto once more evoked the initiation of the alchemical journey, the “ex tenebris lux”, from the darkness of the soul to the light of the knowledge, in a symbolic path from the bowels of the earth to the infinity of the sky.
A frequent guest of Orti Oricellari was the famous painter Salvator Rosa, friend of Cardinal Giovan Carlo de’ Medici. Salvator Rosa painted the private thermal baths of Cardinal Giovan Carlo at Pitti Palace.
Around 1820s, the Orti Oricellari were purchased by Marquis Giuseppe Stiozzi Ridolfi. He entrusted from the architect Luigi Cambray de Digny the renovation of the garden. Try to guess? They were both members of the Freemasonry.
The garden was renovated in the fashionable English Landscape Garden style, with winding paths, artificial mounds, S-shaped water features. Some follies adorned the garden as well: a Gothik Abbey dedicated to Saint Anne, a Venus Temple, the sham ruins of a Circus and the Pantheon (this last still exists).
In 1861, Princes Orlov bought the Orti Oricellari and entrusted from the architect Giuseppe Poggi the renovation of the garden.
At the end of 19th century, this mythical garden was unfortunately divided into two plots. The glory of the Orti Oricellari sorrowfully waned.
Corsini al Prato Garden: the geometry of aristocracy
Corsini al Prato Garden
The Corsini al Prato Garden is a hidden jewel in the heart of Florence.
Located in Via Il Prato, it is just a few steps from Santa Maria Novella Church. One of the medieval gates of Florence, Porta al Prato, lies close to the garden. The name “prato” means lawn. In the past, this area was used for jousts, shows, and horseracings.
Before discovering the garden, it is essential to introduce the Corsini family, an illustrious and ancient lineage.
The Corsini family is one of the most important aristocratic family of Florence. They counted a Saint and a Pope: Saint Andrea Corsini, bishop of Fiesole from 1349 to 1373, and Pope Clement XII who founded the Capitolini Museums in Rome and entrusted the world-famous Fountain of Trevi.
The Corsini family still exists nowadays: the three branches are scattered between Florence, London, Rome, Milan, Belgium, United States, Philippines, and Brazil. One branch of Corsini family is involved in oil and wine production in Tuscany, at Villa Le Corti in Chianti region and at Tenuta Marsiliana in Maremma region.
Palazzo Corsini al Parione, Lungarno Corsini, Florence
Palazzo Corsini al Parione, Lungarno Corsini, Florence
Palazzo Corsini al Parione, Lungarno Corsini, Florence
Palazzo Corsini al Parione in Florence, along Arno River, was the main dwelling of Corsini family. It is the most prestigious Baroque building of the city, erected by Alfonso Parigi the Younger, Ferdinando Tacca, Pierfrancesco and Gherardo Silvani in the 17th century. The Palace is provided with a magnificent grotto and an impressive painting collection. Palazzo Corsini al Parione houses the internationally renowned “Biennale dell’Antiquariato”, usually in September. This is a great opportunity to visit the palace in a majestic and unique allure.
The grotto at Palazzo Corsini al Parione
Biennale dell’Antiquariato, Palazzo Corsini al Parione, September 2019
But… let’s go back to the Corsini al Prato Garden.
Around 1591, Alessandro Acciaiuoli entrusted from Bernardo Buontalenti the palace. Later, in 1621, Filippo di Lorenzo Corsini bought the palace and entrusted from Gherardo Silvani the garden.
In the 19th century, the garden was renovated in the fashionable English Landscape Garden style by Gaetano Baccani for Neri Corsini, Marquis of Laiatico, and Eleonora Rinuccini.
The garden is impressive and it is one of the best preserved historical gardens of Florence.
It features three dazzling “Limonaie” (orangeries) with the curious “Poncirus trifoliata”; a geometric parterre with box hedges, flowers and aromatic plants; two English style groves (one was probably an ancient “ragnaia”, a system of nets for birds huntings); and the main axis, adorned with a collection of statues which funnel the view through the garden and increase the sense of depth.
The garden offers furthermore citrus fruits, a decorative cherry tree, and ancient lime trees. There is a bucolic vista opening over an orchard: this part of the garden evokes the bucolic countryside.This proves that the Corsini al Prato Garden was a coalesce of utilitarism and ornamentation.
The landscaper Oliva di Collobiano was the last who worked at Corsini al Prato garden in the 1980s for Giorgiana Corsini: she laid out the Italian style parterres with pleasant pink peonies.
Florence Secret Gardens Private Tours
Corsi Annalena Garden, Torrigiani Garden, Orti Oricellari and Corsini al Prato Garden are private gardens.
It is necessary to check the availibility of the owner and arrange the visit in advance. Feel free to contact me; I will be glad to help you and to guide you through the secret gardens of Florence!
Please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Pozzana M. “I giardini di Firenze e della Toscana” (Giunti Editore S.p.A., Firenze, 2011).
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