Padua’s botanical garden: an emerald in the heart of the city

At the beginning of July I travelled to Padua in the Veneto region. It was a trip down memory lane for me, as I lived in this northern Italian town for a year when I was a child. I came for the wedding of an elementary school classmate, but I also took the opportunity to stay on for a few days so I could visit all my favourite places.

First up of course was St. Anthony’s Basilica. Even after living in Rome for four years and touring countless stunning churches, this basilica still manages to impress me. I especially like the blue ceilings decorated with golden stars, and the beautiful mosaic in the Chapel of the Most Holy Sacrament, one of the first you see when you walk in on the right.

After emerging from the church, I escaped the throngs of tourists by taking a detour down the first road to the left. I wanted to return to my most treasured spot in Padua: the botanical garden. I always remember visiting it as a child on a school trip, and how it had charmed me. It also holds historical importance: it’s the oldest university botanical garden in the world that is still in its original position, built in 1545 on the orders of the Senate of the Venetian Republic. The aim was to develop medicinal plants and help students of Padua’s university to study them. UNESCO made it a World Heritage site in 1997 due to its contribution to the scientific study of plants.

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When I first arrived in the garden, I headed along my usual route towards the right. I passed the section for blind people, where descriptions of plants are also written in braille. Here are mint, rosemary and lavender for example, with explanations in Italian, Latin and braille below.

mintlavenderI then walked along the outskirts, through leafy trees, and past fountains arranged at the gates into the main garden.

firstfountainThe prettiest of all is the Fountain of the Four Seasons, my favourite spot. Here you can see busts representing Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter and a statue of King Solomon arranged around the fountain. Here is Spring:

springThe fountain was especially beautiful on this visit because the pink water lilies were in full bloom.

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In fact I saw a whole range of water lilies, in several different colours, particularly in an area dedicated to water plants:

redlilies

lilies3After touring around the outskirts, I then wandered into the central section, which contains four symmetrical gardens in the centre, and others that run along the circular walls surrounding them. Each is dedicated to something different, such as medicinal plants, plants from the nearby Euganean hills, water plants, and rare plants. Here was a particularly colourful section:

colourfulgardenAs I walked further on to see the carnivorous plants, kept within glasshouses, I noticed there were quite a few German speaking people coming out of one greenhouse. I soon discovered they were looking at “Goethe’s palm”, the oldest plant in the garden dating back to 1585, which has apparently become famous due to the interest it sparked in the German poet, who wrote about it in an essay.

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I then observed some of the carnivorous and poisonous plants, and some of the plants that Padua’s botanical garden introduced in Italy. In this section I saw some particularly vibrant flowers. Here is Hibiscus Syriacus, native to Asia.

hibiscus

The place was literally bursting with colour– July was definitely a great time to visit. I would highly recommend this garden to travellers who make it to Padua. It is especially interesting to tour an old university botanical garden that has been preserved in its original form, maintaining the link with history. It is fascinating from a scientific and medicinal point of view but it also a peaceful place to pass an hour or so. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! Here is a final selection of colours for you, don’t miss the roses and cacti on the way out.

orangeflower

blueflower

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Details: Orto Botanico, Università degli Studi di Padova, via Orto Botanico, 15, 35123, Padova. For opening hours and more information click here

 

 

 

 

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