A secret glimpse of the Leaning Tower of Pisa

While crowds of tourists swarmed around the Tower of Pisa on a Wednesday in early October, posing for their best illusion pictures, I took a walk around to the nearby botanical garden. In contrast to the busy square around Pisa cathedral, I was almost alone as I explored these peaceful gardens in the gentle autumn evening light.

Having already visited the botanical gardens in Padua and Salerno, I was keen to see Pisa’s as I had read that it is the oldest university botanic garden in Europe, founded in 1543. It changed sites a few times and set up in its current location in 1591.

I started my wander in the Botanic School, the oldest part of the garden. Here I saw various Italian herbs and shrubs grouped in neat rectangular beds.

pisabotanical4Further along I stopped to admire the Old Botany Institute, built in the 1590s. It had an interesting facade covered in shells.

pisabotanical2I also liked this corner where I discovered a statue of Paolo Savi, who was the son of Gaetano Savi, a professor of botany at the university of Pisa. Paolo was a prominent Italian geologist and also an ornithologist, or bird expert. He did a lot of work on Pisa’s natural history museum, building up one of the most extensive collections of its kind. This museum, now located in Calci outside Pisa, is one of the oldest in the world and sounds like another jewel worth a visit.

pisabotanical1I then came to the Cedar Garden, which had a pretty fountain at its centre and a bench in the corner. This was a shady spot, and a perfect place to take a moment to pause and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. You can see some of the oldest trees of the garden here, such as a maidenhair and a magnolia. To the left there is also a row of huge bamboo shoots.

pisabotanical5Next to this is the Myrtle Garden, where you can explore some medicinal plants. It is named after a narrow-leaved myrtle planted here in 1815, which now stands about 4 metres tall. Myrtle is thought to help fight fungus and bacteria. It has been used to treat lung infections and bladder conditions. Other plants to see here include the foxglove and the belladonna, as well as herbs including echinacea.

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On the opposite side of the garden, I explored the Arboretum, a collection of trees from temperate regions. I also came across a pretty pond area, where I saw some lovely lotus flowers on the water.

pisabotanical14A lady was sketching on the grass by the pond, and I remember the warm dappled light through the trees created a magical atmosphere.

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pisabotanical9My tour ended with a pleasant surprise. Coming to the far side of the garden, I spotted Pisa’s most famous site between the leaves of the trees: the leaning tower! I liked it from this angle– an added bonus which makes visiting these gardens even more worthwhile.

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 Orto Botanico dell’Università di Pisa, Via Luca Ghini 5. For more information see here

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