Palazzo Pitti: Boboli Gardens ☆☆

Belvedere rose garden, Palazzo Pitti: Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy (Photo by Damian Entwistle)
Belvedere rose garden

The Giardini di Boboli offer a rare park in busy Florence—and the birthplace of opera—in terraces of greenery behind the princely Renaissance Pitti Palace

The statue-filled park behind the Pitti Palace is one of the earliest and finest Renaissance gardens, laid out mostly between 1549 and 1656 with box hedges in geometric patterns, groves of ilex, dozens of statues, and rows of cypress.

In 1766, it was opened to the Florentine public, who still come here with their families for Sunday-morning strolls.

The birth of opera

Just above the entrance through the courtyard of the Palazzo Pitti is an oblong amphitheater, modeled on Roman circuses and constrcuted in 1630–35 by Giulio and Alfonso Parigi. In the middle is a granite basin from Rome's Baths of Caracalla and an Egyptian obelisk of Ramses II from Heliopolis.

But before the 17th century trasnformation, this spot was, in 1589, the setting for the wedding reception of Ferdinando de' Medici's marriage to Christine of Lorraine.

For the occasion, the Medici commissioned entertainment from Jacopo Peri and Ottavio Rinuccini.

The composers came up with the novel idea of setting a classical story (Dafne) to music and having actors sing the whole thing.

We now consider this the world's first opera. (Later, the duo collaborated on a follow-up hit Erudice,performed here in 1600; it's the first opera whose score has survived.)

The upper, eastern end of the park

A terrace above the amphitheater with three Roman-era statues lead to a path climbing to the Neptune Fountain (1571) by Stoldo Lorenzi.

From here, you can angle back to the left (north) to find the rococo Kaffehaus, used for parties in the age of the Grand Dukes and still offering bar service in summertime.

Return to the Neptune Fountain and head straight up to the top of the park, under the city walls andjust below the hulking Forte di Belvedere batlments off to your left.

The giant Giambologna statue of Abundance started as a portrait of Franceso I's wife, Giovanna of Austria, and was later reworked by Giambologna's student, Pietro Tacca into this allegorical figure. The reason it is so large is that it was originally supposed to perch atop a column on Piazza San Marco; it was placed here in 1636 by Giovanna's daugher, Maria de' Medici (better known as Queen Marie of France, wife of Henry IV and mother and regent to King Louis XIII).

Pause to drink in the city views, then turn right and continue to the very tip-top of the Boboli Gardens.

Hard against the city walls you'll find the Giardino del Cavaliere, the Boboli's prettiest hidden corner. This tiny walled garden of box hedges and spring flowers offers private views over the wooded hills of Florence's outskirts. Also here is the faded pink building called the Casino del Cavaliere, once used for summer balls and today housing the Museo delle Porcellane tablewares collection.

The Viottolone and the Isolotto

Back to the central Neptune Fountain.

Paths lead to the fountain's southwest to the wide, cypress-lined Viotollone, the main drag of the Boboli.

This gravel path leads steeply down west toward the park's Porta Romana gate, passing dozens of statues in niches (some ancient Roman; others baroque era) and lots of tiny paths curling out from both sides, many of them tunnels under arbors of trained ilex trees (holm oaks).

It's a nice area to get lost for a while; in fact, these side paths did once comprise a trip of lanyrintths, but these were destroyed when the curving paths were added in the 1830s.

The Viottolone leads, eventually, to the pond around the Isolotto, a rose-garden island created by the Parigi in 1612 and dominated by the Fountain of Oceanus carved by Gimabologna for Francesco I de' Medici 1578 (this is a replica; the original is now in the Bargello for safekeeping).

An English-style garden called the Hemicycle extends form here toeard the park's western gate.

The grottos

At the northeast end of the park, down around the end of the Pitti Palace, are several fake caverns filled with statuary, attempting to invoke some vaguely classical sacred grotto.

The most famous, the Grotta Grande or Grotta di Buontalenti, was started by Giorgio Vasari in 1557, but finished by Bernardo Buontalenti between 1583 and 1593, dripping with phony stalactites (back in ducal times, it dripped with water, too, from hundreds of tiny jest and tubes) and set with statues by Baccio Bandinelli and frescoes by Bernardino Poccetti.

Cosimo I had Michelangelo's four unfinished Slave statues placed in each of the grotto's corners; they have long since been replaced by repilcas (the originals are safe in the Accademia.)

In the second chamber of the Grotto is a Paris and Helen marble grouping by Vincenzo de' Rossi.

In the third, tiny chamber of the grotto behind that are mosaic wall foutains and a central fountain with Giambologna's Mannerist Venus supported by satyrs.

Near the exit to the park is a Florentine postcard favorite, the Fontana di Bacco (Bacchus Fountain; 1560), a pudgy dwarf sitting atop a tortoise by Valerio Cioli. It's actually a portrait of Pietro Barbino, Cosimo I's potbellied dwarf court jester.

Photo gallery
  • Belvedere rose garden, Palazzo Pitti: Boboli Gardens, Italy (Photo by Damian Entwistle)
  • The amphitheater at the Boboli Gardens, as seen from the Pitti Palace, Palazzo Pitti: Boboli Gardens, Italy (Photo by Anna Fox)
  • The Isolotto pond, Palazzo Pitti: Boboli Gardens, Italy (Photo by Russell Yarwood)
  • The rococo Kaffeehaus, Palazzo Pitti: Boboli Gardens, Italy (Photo by Rufus46)
  • The maze of Ilex arbors off the Viottolone, Palazzo Pitti: Boboli Gardens, Italy (Photo by UncleVinny)
  • Inside the first chamber of the Grotta di Buontalenti, Palazzo Pitti: Boboli Gardens, Italy (Photo Public Domain)
  • The Baccus Fountain (1560), Palazzo Pitti: Boboli Gardens, Italy (Photo by itsjustkate)
  • Relaxing in the Giardini di Boboli park behind the Pitti Palace, Palazzo Pitti: Boboli Gardens, Italy (Photo by Deror avi)
  • The steep Viottolone, the main drag of the Boboli Gardens, Palazzo Pitti: Boboli Gardens, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
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Free admission with a sightseeing card

Get into Palazzo Pitti for free (and skip the line at the ticket booth) with:

» more on discounts & passes
How long does Pitti Palace take?

Budget at least two hours for a cursory visit of just the Galleria Palatina and Appartamenti Reali.

If you plan to venture into the Boboli Gardens, give it another hour. 

If you have only passing interest in the other museums, each will take about 20 minutes.

Note that the last entry for every museum or part of the Pitti complex is 45 minutes before closing.

The Boboli Gardens close one hour early.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).