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The Botanical Garden of Padua

A fascinating journey to the Earth’s extremes to the discovery
of the world of plants

Founded in 1545, the Botanical Garden of Padua is the oldest academic garden in the world. After more than 450 years of life, it needed a deep renewal in order to combine together tradition and openness to the future. The new Biodiversity Garden greenhouses are a great showcase, an ideal cross-section of the globe which slopes away from the equator to the poles.

orto botanico

The old Botanical Garden of 1545

It’s the oldest existing university garden in the world (1545), a garden of Simples (medicinal plants) founded for the cultivation of rare and exotic plants with special therapeutic properties. The Garden was drawn as a circle within a square, divided into four smaller squares by two main intersecting paths: the four squares, called "quarters", or "tiers" because they were originally about 70 centimetres higher than the paths, were divided into flowerbeds, which were arranged to form a series of completely different elegant geometrical patterns.

orto botanico
 
orto botanico

The Botanical Garden hosts incredibly old plants, usually called "historic trees". The Hortus sphaericus has a Mediterranean palm (Goehte’s Palm) which is, at present the oldest plant in the Garden, planted in 1585. There is also a ginkgo, dated 1750, and a southern magnolia, probably planted in 1786 and which is considered to be the oldest in Europe. Other historic trees grow in the Arboretum (outside the circular wall).

 

caffeThe Botanical Garden was founded ...

because in ancient times the identification of medicinal plants by botanists was uncertain, and the institution of a Horto medicinale enabled students to identify true medicinal plants. An enclosing wall was soon built to prevent frequent night robberies of the precious plants coming from all over the world: Asia, Africa, America. For example, the coffee plant was described for the first time in Italy by Prospero Alpini, prefect of the Botanical Garden. In his De plantis Aegypti, written after a long adventurous voyage in Africa, he talks of the therapeutic uses of the drink obtained from its toasted seeds. It is the prelude to the arrival of coffee in the West, brought by the Venetians during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Palm of Goethe:
it’s almost 450 years old

It’s the most ancient plant of the garden, named after the poet Goethe because, after observing it in 1786, he was inspired to describe his evolutionary theory in his "Essay on the Metamorphosis of Plants". The dwarf fan palm was planted in the Botanical Garden in 1585 and grows in a special octagonal greenhouse that has enabled it to develop various stalks about 10 metres high.

 

The Botanical Garden of Padua: heritage of mankind protected by Unesco

Over the centuries, the Garden of Padua has placed itself in the middle of a widespread network of International relations, by exerting a deep influence upon the research and the exchange of ideas, knowledge, plants and scientific material. It has played a leading role in the introduction and acclimatisation of exotic species in Italy and Europe. Among the first plants brought to Padua: sunflower, potato, sesame, aloe, lilac, freesia and many more. In 1997 it has been inscribed on the World Heritage List as a cultural good: the Botanical Garden of Padua is the original of all botanical gardens throughout the world, and represents the birth of science, of scientific exchanges, and understanding of the relationship between nature and culture.”

 

5 greenhouses for 5 continents:

an ideal cross-section of the globe which slopes away from the equator to the poles

 
orto botanico padova

Five greenhouses, inserted in a glass and steel gallery where the space becomes a symbolical microcosm allowing the visitor to experience different climate conditions and vegetations present on Earth: as if the ideal “green carpet” covering the whole Planet surface were laid down, on a small scale, on the Garden’s soil.

Following a north-south way, representing the itinerary along a terrestrial meridian, the visitor will walk through the main ecosystems of the Planet, from the tropical to the subarctic ones, to conclude with vegetal life in space, where technology can make up for the absence of minimum survival requirements.

 

Biodiversity: this is the basic concept characterizing architect Giorgio Strappazzon’s project for the new Botanical Garden.
A highly technological and futuristic project where the building plays an active role in transforming both the inside and outside environment, thanks to design and technological features which reduce environmental impact. But not only: considering that only 10% of the plant species on earth is known, the role of point of research is extremely valuable and moreover the botanical garden becomes an important site for the conservation of this biodiversity.

 
 
info

Info and opening times:

April and May: 9-19 every day / from June to September: 9-19*, October: 9-18 * / from November to March: 9-17*
*every day, closed on working Mondays

For further information: http://www.ortobotanicopd.it

 
 

Photo credits: "by courtesy of Università degli Studi di Padova" – It is absolutely forbidden to duplicate or reproduce the photos above by any means.

Texts by University of Padua readapted by:

Cristina Pistorello

 
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