Even at the end of October Pisa was hot, and tourists were still clustered around the Leaning Tower. The Pisa Botanical Garden was the perfect place to escape: it was cool and shady, and I had the place to myself.
A Historic Garden
The Pisa Botanical Garden (or Orto Botanico di Pisa) was founded in 1543 as a “Garden of Simples”, or medicinal garden. It was originally established on the side of the River Arno, but moved to its current location in 1591. This was the earliest such garden attached to a university anywhere in the world, although the Padua Botanical Garden claims the title of oldest botanical garden as it has remained in the same location since 1545. It is still used as a research facility today.
The garden still retains some of its historic features, including the formal pathways and the shell encrusted facade of the Botanic Institute. Members of the public are welcome to visit and to enjoy the peaceful setting.
A particular item of historic interest is the trees. The Ancient Tree Trail is one of the main features of the garden, and some of the trees are very old indeed. I passed a Magnolia planted in 1787, and an oak that was so old it now acted as host to numerous other species. Then there was the 19th century Eastern Plane, described as “the most beautiful tree in the garden”.
As you walk around you will see noticeboards everywhere, with information about the trees and the plants. Captions are in Italian, English and Braille (including raised pictures of the plants).
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Enjoying The Pisa Botanical Garden
Apart from the trees, the garden features ponds and greenhouses. And the Botanic Insitute houses a museum showcasing the history of botanical research in Pisa. Of particular interest is the Herbarium which includes more than 300,000 dried plants collected over the last 200 years.
When I visited an artist was hard at work sketching a tall tree and a couple of gardeners toiled away in the distance. I walked slowly, enjoying the solitude and the birdsong. I passed the cacti and aquatic flowers, and peered into the big greenhouse with its vast display of succulents. Conservation work was much in evidence: some of these plants are almost extinct, and the garden’s curators were working hard to protect them.
But then I became aware of my unseen companions: midges. It was late in the year, and I had not foreseen the need for insect repellent, so they were enjoying a free feast! It would be nice to return to the Pisa Botanical Garden in the summer, I thought, when it is in full bloom. But I would have to remember the insect repellent…