Behind the imposing Palazzo Pitti, the Boboli Gardens await you with its stories
The Boboli Gardens are a historic green space in Florence, famous the world over and beloved by locals and tourists alike: this green lung in the city can be considered an open air museum, rich in history and art, as well as a precious refuge from the city’s summer heat. Behind the imposing Palazzo Pitti, the garden awaits you with its stories, secret corners and fascinating routes.
Lunette of Pitti palace and Boboli gardens, 1599
The oldest part of the garden, just behind Palazzo Pitti, dates to the 16th century and vaunts an easily recognizable Renaissance style. Later extensions and modifications (with ponds, fountains, temples and caves) began under Cosimo II, who also restored and expanded the palace itself during the 17th century. The original design is by Niccolò Pericoli (Tribolo). Following his premature death, the work fell under the direction of important artists such as Bartolomeo Ammannati and Bernardo Buontalenti.
Boboli is a typical example of Italian landscape art: regular and geometric areas, bordered by small and large paths, alternate with more hidden and protected areas – some examples include Giardino del Cavaliere, Giardino della Limonaia, Giardino dell’Isola, Prato di Madama (now lost) – dedicated to herbs, shrubs and flowers. There are also smaller and exclusive spaces attached to the private apartments of the Medici family, such as the Giardinetto del Pincipe Mattias/Garden of the Camellias. The Boboli Gardens were (partially) opened to the public for the first time during the reign of Grand Duke Peter Leopold.
The horseshoe amphitheatre that greets visitors at the main entrance of Palazzo Pitti is actually located where the hill was excavated to remove the stone (pietraforte) used to build the palace itself.
The Ocean Fountain, which today is located in the south-west area of the garden (L'Isolotto), was once at the centre of the amphitheatre, where we can still see the Egyptian obelisk installed in 1790, the only one of its kind in Tuscany.
The Giardino del Cavaliere is one of the Boboli’s walled gardens. The name comes from the location, built atop (a cavallo) a bastion that is part of the city’s fortifications designed by Michelangelo. Here, the low hedges surround rare species of dahlias and roses. The central fountain is decorated with three bronze monkeys at the base. The garden is also home to the Casino del Cavaliere, where the Porcelain Museum is located.
The Limonaia comes from the Medici family’s interest in having citrus groves in their gardens, which were considered exotic plants. During the cold winters, they needed to be moved indoors, so the old mosaics and statues factory was transformed into a “limonaia,” a special building used specifically for this purpose. Under the reign of Grand Duke Peter Leopold, the Limonaia also housed exotic animals, including a hippopotamus.
The Kaffeehaus is a unique Rococo pavilion offering a splendid view of the city.
The Boboli Gardens are also the ending point of the Vasari Corridor, while near the piazza Pitti exit, you can find the Fountain of Bacchus, depicting the obese dwarf Morgante, the most popular of the dwarves in Cosimo I court.
Hidden among the trees you can see two strange semi-underground domes: these are the old iceboxes, used to preserve food for the royal court as well as the ice that was brought in from the mountains. Boboli has a huge collection of old rose varieties and is connected to Forte Belvedere, but the door between the two is currently closed.
The Boboli Gardens have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2013.