Robert Langdon and Sienna Brooks, protagonists in the novel Inferno by Dan Brown, escape through Boboli Gardens’ pathways. In addition to playing a key role in the novel, the Boboli Gardens consist of a fantastic open-air museum situated in the heart of Florence, and are filled with fountains, statues, as well as an amphitheatre.
Brief history of the Boboli Gardens
Designed in a carefully structured and geometric Italian Renaissance style, the gardens were begun in 1550 by Niccolò di Raffaello de’ Pericoli detto Tribolo, who had been commissioned by Eleonora de Toledo, wife of Cosimo I, to create a setting appropriate for vast pageants and lavish Medici court entertainment.
After the untimely death of Tribolo in 1550, a number of architects and designers such as Davide Fortini, Giorgio Vasari, Bartolomeo Ammannati, and Bernardo Buontalenti worked on the gardens, attempting to respect the original concept of formality, symmetry, and elegance.
The gardens relied on an elaborate system of water distribution, a special conduit being built to tap the river; this was further enlarged by Ferdinando I, Cosimo’s son. The garden waters are known as the Acqua Ferdinanda.
Today the Boboli Gardens are a public park and display statuary from various historical periods, including works by important Mannerist and Baroque sculptors. Among these is the horseshoe-shaped amphitheatre, where operas and concerts for the Medici rulers betokened their courtly existence as the absolute rulers of the city.
The history of the amphitheatre
The Boboli Amphitheatre is one of the major architectural structures belonging to the gardens of Pitti Palace, which adorns the main axis, centered on the rear facade of the building. The amphitheatre’s current layout has replaced the original from the second half of the 16th century and is made up of terraces planted with plane trees, beech, oak, ash, elm, fir, and cypress trees. For this reason, it is referred to in historical documents as “anfiteatro di verzura.”
The masonry structure, designed to create a real amphitheater that would accommodate choreography and performances for the court’s pleasure, was built later, between 1630 and 1637, and designed by the architect Giulio Parigi.
The project concerned a high masonry base, with seven orders of steps, connected to the bleachers by a system of internal stairs. For the occasion, the positioning of the marble statue groups by Giambologna known as Oceano was changed. The balustrade was interrupted by twenty-four niches originally occupied by statues mostly classical, while the cornerstones to their sides comprised statues of dogs and other animals.
The structure was inaugurated in 1637 for the coronation of Vittoria della Rovere, wife of Ferdinando II de ‘Medici, Grand Duchess of Tuscany. For that occasion, the Carousel, a series of choreographed movements inspired by the epic poem Gerusalemme Liberata, was performed.
According to the current arrangement, which dates back to the Italian architect Giuseppe Cacialli (1818), the statues of dogs and other animals are interspersed with terracotta urns painted faux marble.
During the Lorrainese period the amphitheater went through many changes: the subterranean cells were filled with soil, and the new levels obtained allowed the construction of a driveway connecting the entry, Bacco, with the square of the Meridiana.
In 1789, an Egyptian obelisk hailing from the Villa Medici in Rome was placed in the center, in front of which was laid a large granite basin in 1840, designed by the architect Pasquale Poccianti.
The cells became for a time decorated gardens with boxwood hedges and potted citrus trees.
After various vicissitudes, the amphitheatre has acquired the look it has today.
Picture by www.inyourtuscany.com