Botanical Garden of Pisa
After two years of highly restrictive measures you simply want to stay outside, possibly in the middle of nature. Sharing popular places with crowds of people is not really what one is looking for. So a friend of mine and I decided to visit the oldest botanical garden in the world which turns out to be in Pisa.
To me, Pisa has always been very special. What caught my attention the very first time I came across the small town was not the Square of Miracles or the Leaning Tower but the students. This small city was overflowing with thousands and thousands of young people. In fact, about half of the roughly ninety thousands inhabitants are students. What an opportunity to study at one of the oldest and most highly esteemed universities in Italy and in Europe! What a chance to turn dreams, expectations and hopes for a future life into reality. Founded on September 3, 1343, this year it will celebrate its venerable 679th birthday. My sincere congratulations.
The weather was not on our side, neither were we lucky with a nearby parking lot. But, as they say, “walking makes you healthier” and everybody knows that light, drizzly rain is good for your skin. Furthermore, there were few tourists around; another undeniable plus.
The age of the Botanical Garden, to be honest, is somewhat mysterious. The sign at the entrance of the ticket office indicates 1425 and therefore (together with the one in Padova) the oldest in the world. Several books, on the contrary, mention as year of birth 1543, 1544 and even 1591. Ok, but how should we consider the Giardino della Minerva in Salerno, Campania in southwestern Italy? It dates in fact, back to 1300…
Also confusing is that sometimes the Botanical Garden is called Garden of the Simples, Giardino dei Semplici. Then you find Giardino, i.e. Garden, or even Orto, which basically means Vegetable Garden, but in this case is quite misleading. Let’s put it this way, it is a place where scientists have a chance to study plants and their effects on humans and animal diseases.
Anyway, we just wanted to visit this famous Orto Botanico together with the Botanical Museum, located in front of the entrance. The collections of animals, fruits and mushrooms were beautifully reproduced by using wood or even wax. The herbaria with three hundred fifty thousand samples left us speechless. Botanical prints and a range of plants suitable for producing fabrics, were truly amazing. Microscopes, magnifying glasses and lenses completed the picture. It is indeed a place where opere della natura, “works of nature”, have been studied with dedication and patience. In remembrance of their great work, some of the most famous scientists of their time are immortalized in portraits covering a whole wall.
Due to the early season, there were little flowering plants and bushes but the trees were huge. Luckily tourists walking around did help me underline how big the trees actually are and how old they must be. Interestingly, all information is also given in detail in Braille, a system of reading and writing for those who cannot see.
Cactus lovers (not me) have a chance to learn everything possible about the members of this family. Incredible how slowly they grow and apparently with no need at all. Quite interesting how many people are into these prickly plants, which are true survival experts.
One of the cutest things we saw, was a little house or shed baptized “Hortel”, by the Botanical Garden. It turned out to be a kind of Bed and Breakfast, created to provide shelter for solitary bees and wasps, ladybugs, butterflies and many other insects. Old tiles, dry stone walls, logs, various types of barks, bound reeds and bamboo are good building materials. Truly a great idea.
Five gardeners and quite a number of volunteers take care of the Botanical Garden with dedication and love. In addition, a ginger colored cat seems to survey the quality of the work and the correct functioning of the garden. If ever I have spare time I will definitely offer my help in exchange for time to spend in this special place. For now I am planning a small guest house on my balcony…