The Giardini di Boboli are located at the rear of Palazzo Pitti, the former main residence of the Tuscan monarchs.
They cover 45 hectares of gorgeous landscaped Italian gardens, running from Palazzo Pitti to the east side of Forte Belvedere -an atypical impressing fortification, as well as a scenic point with wonderful views of Florence, recently restored- constructed at the end of the 16th century by Bernardo Buontalenti and Don Giovanni de Medici, in order to protect the Pitti Palace from enemies attack.
If the history of Palazzo Pitti is a twisted narrate the historical facts in being about the Boboli Gardens are so insufficient that is very difficult to organize them even chronologically.
Niccolò Tribolo, byname of Niccolò di Raffaello, 1500-1550, was the well-known Florentine mannerist architect and sculptor who started to lay out the gardens in 1549, commissioned by Leonor Álvarez de Toledo, wife of Cosimo I de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.
Tribolo designed the whole plan of the hill spot, but he soon died, so the work ought to be suspended. It was continued around 1558 by the talented Florentine mannerist architect and sculptor Bartolomeo Ammanati (1511-1592) who started the construction of the Grotta Grande (big cave) to the left of the Pitti Palace. The construction was continued by the brilliant Florentine stage designer, architect and military engineer Bernardo Buontalenti (1536-1608) between 1583 and 1593. It hosts some imposing sculptures: Ceres and Apollo by Baccio Bandinelli (1488 ca.-1560), as well as four ideal copies of the Quattro Prigioni (four slaves or captives) which originals, created by Michelangelo in 1530 ca., where moved in 1909 to the Galleria dell’Accademia (Academy Museum, Florence).
Not far from the Grotta Grande, nearby the entrance to the Boboli Gardens, rises the peculiar Fontana di Bacco (Bacchus Fountain) created in 1560 by Valerio Cigoli (1529-1599).
The dwarf of the court of Cosimo I de Medici, called Pietro Barbino, represents the god Bacchus riding on a huge turtle.
Bountalenti constructed as well the so called Grotto di Buontalenti, situated nearby the exit to Piazza de’Pitti. It is externally and internally ornamented by original stalactites and stalagmites, water designs and exuberant vegetation. The Grotto comprises three amazing large interconnected rooms. The first one hosts a series of wonderful frescoes by the prestigious Florentine mannerist painter and printmaker Bernardino Poccetti (1548-1612). The second one preserves the splendid sculptured group of Paris abducting Helen of Troya by Vincenzo Rossi da Fiesole (1525-1577).
The third one was frescoed by Pasquale Poccianti (1774-1858) and hosts a refined fountain by the Flemish Jean de Boulogne (1529-1608) which represents the Bath of Venus.
Buontalenti also enlarged the gardens and gave them a remarkable transformation, which was later kept on by the eminent Florentine architects Giulio Parigi (1571-1635) and his son Alfonso (1606-1656).
The Amphitheatre is situated at the rear of the immense courtyard of Palazzo Pitti. It was constructed in a higher position than the later courtyard.
It was probably projected by Bartolomeo Ammanati, but many art historians consider that its design and construction was, at least at the start, teamwork by Ammanati and Buontalenti.
The immense horseshoe shaped Amphitheatre is located in a meadow. It appearance commits to memory a classical hippodrome. In the centre of the meadow rises the superb Egyptian obelisk which was originally set in Villa Medici, Rome.
In 1599 the Amphitheatre was ornamented by steps topped by tiny tabernacles with niches hosting bronze statues and ancient terracotta urns.
The Amphitheatre in the Boboli Gardens has similar features to the smaller one built by Buontalenti some years after, adjacent to the magnificent Italian gardens of the Villa in Pratolino, commissioned from the artist by Francesco I de Medici, first son of Cosimo I and Grand Duke of Tuscany between 1574 and 1587.
The work of the Amphitheatre was finished by Alfonso Parigi in 1634. Its inauguration dates from the same year, when a magnificent spectacle took there place to celebrate the wedding of Ferdinando II de Medici, Grand Duke if Tuscany from 1621 to 1670, and his cousin Vittoria della Rovere, daughter of the Duke of Urbino.
In the first decade of 17th century Giulio Parigi, subsequently assisted by his son Alfonso, started the construction of the wonderful Piazzale dell’Isolotto, located at the end of the Viottolone (large avenue), which is lined by impressive cypress trees from that age and by refined ancient roman and Classical statues representing famous personalities from the Roman and Greek civilization, as well as mythological characters.
The Viottolone -following to a division by a side avenue, which hosts four exclusive ancient Roman statues representing Serapis, Jupiter, an unidentified male Roman god, and the Emperor Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus -conducts to the Prato delle Colonne, a vast meadow shaped like a hemicycle, encircled by a high hedge, which was embellished by twelve niches, including big impressing busts, and two ancient dark red granite columns, located in the central point, crowned by outstanding marble vases.
The Piazzale dell’Isolotto is richly ornamented with exuberant flowers, lemon trees and treasured statues. It takes the name from the tiny island (isolotto) situated in its hub, surrounded by a large basin. By means of it, the basin is called La Vasca dell’Isolotto, where the marvellous Fontana di Nettuno (Neptune Fountain) rises.
The fountain was created around 1565 by the renowned Tuscan sculptor Stoldo Lorenzi (1534 ca.-1583) follower of Niccoló Tribolo and Jean de Boulogne.
The fountain represents a marbled titanic horse proudly ridden by a bronzed Neptune.
It was utilized as a triumphal car on December 1565 in the great feast arranged by Buontalenti for the Medici family, in occasion of the marriage of Francesco I de Medici with Johanna of Austria, daughter of Ferdinand I, Emperor of the Holy Roman German Empire.
Soon after, it was set in La Vasca dell’Isolotto. The fountain is believed Lorenzi’s masterpiece in Florence.
In 1617, when Giulio Parigi concluded the work of the secondary axis- perpendicular to the main one and leading to Porta Romana, which interlaces with that one in the proximities of the Neptune Fountain, and goes down through a pretty series of garden terraces with Classical sculptures, artificial cascades, surrounded by tiny enchanting green woods -he constructed the amazing Grotticina di Vulcano (the small cave of Vulcan).
In 1739, when the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty relieved the Medici one and came to reside in the Pitti Palace, the Boboli Gardens were revised and partially modified by the celebrated French architect Jean-Nicolas Jadot (1710-1761).
In 1766, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Peter Leopold I of Habsburg-Lorraine, established the opening of the Boboli Gardens to the common people. Ten years later the Grand Duke commissioned from the well-known Tuscan architect Zanobi del Rosso (1724-1798) the construction of a pavilion to host the celebrated Kaffehaus: a magnificent Café, where the Grand Duke used to meet the exponents of his court and friends in Florence. The pavilion is surrounded by a wonderful garden, projected as well by Zanobi, where the architect set some original Roman statues.
Ferdinando III of Habsburg-Lorraine, Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1790 to 1799 and from 1814 to 1824, made some modifications to the planning of the Boboli Gardens. In spite of, he respected the most part of the gardened structure and elegantly restored the rest.
When Florence was nominated capital city of the Kingdom of Italy (1864-1869) Vittorio Emmanuele II of Savoia, did not opted for further alterations in the Gardens.
During the 20th century the Boboli Gardens have been often utilized as an open air theatre, especially for concerts and, since the 1930s, for ballet and opera performances. Among them, stand out the worldwide famous opera productions organized by the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.
For more information on THE MUSEUMS IN BOBOLI GARDEN please click here
Oltrarno Side of Florence
The Cathedrals : Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, Cappella Brancacci, Santo Spirito
Main Monuments : Palazzo Pitti, Piazzale Michelangelo, Ponte Vecchio
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