I think Boboli Gardens is the best site in Florence…above the Uffizi in collections of beauty, more architecturally interesting than Palazzo Vecchio (the Medici palace), and less crowded than the Ponte Vecchio. Call me biased, but nature trumps brick and stone every time for me. While Boboli is an achievement of landscape architecture, it is the designer’s focus on the way we can see nature that makes Boboli such a masterpiece in a town stuffed to the rafters with priceless art.
The gardens are easily a place you can spend most of a day, or an entire afternoon unwinding after the crowds of the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, and Uffizi’s packed galleries. There is refuge here from hitting that holiday wall, when few sites sink in and a rest is required. If any place can pick you up (and the kids), it is this 111-acre (45 hectares) park with its hills, valleys, tall hedges, and reflecting pools.
Boboli combines arboreal landscaping with sculpture, water, mythology, buildings, and the Tuscan topography. The effect is to have made a living museum of the natural beauty that inspires artists and non-artists of all suits. Everyone has visited some type of garden or park that forms itself or is formed around the original landscape. The beauty inherent to the space comes through even with (or in spite of) the lightest touch from the designer’s spade. Boboli is another matter.
Boboli was once the garden of Italy’s kings. The gardens begin behind Pitti Palace, the largest of Florence’s many palaces. It was built by a Renaissance merchant, and construction began in 1458. The palace did not gain recognition until the Medici’s bought it in 1550. They commissioned Niccolò Pericoli, known as Tribolo, to design the gardens. While the palace is stern, imposing, enormous with the weight of wealth that financed its construction, the stepped terraces behind the palace make Pitti a destination for garden lovers from around the world.
Tribolo used the topography as his canvas, and first washed it clean before applying his color-saturated brushstrokes. There appears little doubt that drama was on Tribolo’s mind. He built a story from the same ground on which Renaissance artists trod, cast figures from classical mythology to act within scenes using indigenous trees, plants and flowers as setting and backdrop, and put it on a stage larger than anything yet created. (Versailles outside Paris would emulate Tribolo’s masterpiece.) The story, of course, is a tribute to nature. And the best dramas always blossom from the simplest themes.
The curtain opens onto a semicircle courtyard, the actors set in marble postures, their faces fixed on the obelisk at center stage. And then you walk into the scene. You can’t help stepping onto the stage: stairs draw you up to a gurgling fountain on which more players stand, their faces and bodies bronzed in the sunlight, washed by the water jets. The seats here fill with spectators, watch you go to the rose bushes and break convention when you bend down to inhale their scent.
(read more about Boboli Gardens highlights here)