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Boboli Gardens highlights

October 29th, 2007

boboli gardens_8Scene Two finds you in a formal garden courtyard high above a valley. You overlook grand homes behind this kingly estate. Men and women blend around you in this formal garden. A ceramics gallery has its doors open stage left, where miniature porcelain figurines stand poised to perform a story inside this play. You leave before they make you buy them.

The story continues with statues spotting you around corners, standing on lone grassy groves, and lining steep slopes like sentinels as you drop into the depths of the landscape. Now pools reflect the stormed images of dragons and tourists come round a hedge. You flee for spots that will not interrupt your dream-state.

Another path leads up. You find yourself thirsty. You remember a café on a steppe at the far side of the gardens. It overlooks the tower of Palazzo Vecchio, the red-roofed dome capping Santa Maria del Fiore, and too many construction cranes for a postcard photograph. You ditch your camera and go away with the thirst of a different sort.

boboli gardens_5Up and down you climb the tall boulevards, wondering when other players will speak their parts. But, you realize, they already have—only, you were listening in monochrome when they have spoken with voices of wet green. Before the final curtain falls, a face appears. It is crazed with cracks, a less-than-beseeching expression across its mouth. As you back away, you notice its skull has gone missing. You, player, are its thoughts. Turn to the audience now, and step back into the world. The drama is over for today.

Food and Drinks
in Boboli Gardens

Pitti Palace’s courtyard has a self-service café and bar that has sandwiches, hot entrees, and dessert pastries. As you might expect, the prices are steep, even by Florentine tourism standards. No rules prevent you from bringing in picnic gear, so if you plan to spend a few hours here—and there’s plenty in the gardens to occupy your time at least that long, think about stopping at a sandwich shop along the way.

Below the imposing walls of Fort Belvedere on the garden’s eastern perimeter, an espresso café is open during the warm season, with tables on a small stage overlooking a formal garden and, beyond, the gorgeous Florentine skyline.

boboli gardens_3Outside Boboli Gardens
Palazzo Pitti has three museums that you get free entrance into with the price of a ticket. While I focus on the garden, the museums have collected some fabulous art. The Palatine Gallery fills the first floor of Pitti, exhibiting a collection of more than 500 Renaissance pieces formed mostly from the Medici (and successors) private collection. Works by Raphael, Titian, Correggio, Rubens, and Pietro da Cortona hang as much as they were in the days Pitti was used as a residence.

The Palatine collection flows into the Royal Apartments, the second of the museums in Pitti. Though altered since the Medici lived here, the 14 rooms are intimate spaces in which to view portraits of the Medici family, period furniture, and the guilt decorations.

The Gallery of Modern art spreads through 30 rooms, exhibiting Italian works from various schools between 1700-1900. The collection doesn’t sound very modern, but you must understand that in Italy, “modern” refers to pre-World War II productions.

One other small gallery on the first floor holds special exhibits in its three rooms. When I visited last, in spring of ’06, an exhibition of Renaissance eroticism was in progress. Among paintings of nudes and nymphs frolicking, the exhibit had an installation of a Renaissance bedroom. There were no mirrors (thank you), but instead a painting from mythology depicting amorous play among the gods and goddesses.

boboli gardens_12Pitti and Boboli are in Florence’s Oltrarno district, south of the Arno River. Hotels and hostels are on every street, mixed in with the residential buildings. There are many restaurants and shops here that get overlooked by tourists, and so some good bargains can be found for the industrious shopper.

Just a couple blocks north is Ponte Vecchio, the 14th-century bridge that today houses jewelry shops. For a great sunset photo of the Vecchio, find a riverfront restaurant on the south bank along Borgo San Jacopo. And for a full list of tourist sites, museums, and restaurant & nightlife recommendations, visit the Florence city page.

Directions to Boboli Gardens
The entrance to Palazzo Pitti and Boboli is on Via Guicciardini, two blocks south of Ponte Vecchio. If you’re coming directly from the train station, leave through the main entrance, walk through Piazza Santa Maria Novella and down Via de’Fossi to the Arno River. Turn left and head for Ponte Vecchio, cross the bridge and down to the Piazza Pitti. Apart from the main train station into Florence (or the airport), only buses run as public transportation. Bus no.’s 6, 11, 36, and 37 will drop you off just south of Palazzo Pitti.

The focus of European City Parks is on public parks that give roaming space and park recreation to its residents and visitors at no charge. Sometimes an exception must be made. Boboli gets my choice for both beauty and proximity to the sites visitors want to see. It’s also well worth the €7 ($9) price because you gain access to three museums exhibiting fine works from Italy and Europe.

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