Be Prepared to be Wow-ed
A city like Florence, well known for its amazing art collections, monumental architecture and rich historic past can sometimes have you forget about the natural beauty that abounds in the form of well maintained gardens and parks. And then, when you do think about them, it is places like Boboli Gardens, the colorful iris and rose gardens, and even the Botanical Garden in the city center that come to mind first.
The magical silence and stunning architecture in the Bardini Gardens seem to get lost in the crowd of places to visit while in Florence.
Virtually unknown, and many times almost deserted, this 4 hectare garden was recently restored to part of its original glory and is now slowly being rediscovered by the locals and guests to the city of Florence. First time visitors to the Renaissance city just might not have time to fit it into their already full itinerary; however, those who are coming back to Florence again (and again and again) should really find time to walk the grounds. In an hour you can stroll the entire garden easily and calmly, and that is what this garden deserves: time for a short stroll that will sooth your soul.
Early Morning Hours & Twilight Vistas
My first visit to the garden couldn’t have been more impressive. I arrived practically when it opened (8:15 am) one warm, sunny April morning. The terraced position over the Arno River, and just above the awakening city, formed a sort of cocoon, where only the chattering birds and occasional butterfly kept me company.
The first round of blooms were already decorating the gardens and the Wisteria tunnel was in the beginning of its spectacular show (mid April - beginning of May). It was the perfect moment to admire the Baroque style stairwell and the seasonal mini-gardens on each terrace.
The baroque flight of steps is the most picturesque part of the garden, with its viewpoint over the city and the six fountains with their multi-material mosaic bottoms.
If turn around at this point, the skyline of Florence will spread from left to right. You will be close enough to admire the detail on the major monuments, but the distance creates a buffer for the daily noise of the city. Each time you move up to a new level, surprising views opened up over Florence, framed by the various trees in the garden that were in bloom. The panoramic views are decidedly a winning feature of the gardens.
Find the Gardens at the Back Door to Florence
You will need to venture over to “Oltrarno” to find the two entrances to the Giardino Bardini. One is located at Via dei Bardi 1r, close to the Museum of Stefano Bardini and the Ponte alle Grazie. You might find yourself looking for a green area or a picturesque garden gate; however, when you enter from here you go first into a stone building where you will find the ticket office. From here you will take an elevator up to the gardens. The entrance walk into the gardens will have Florence to your back, and if you turn around you will have a view over the red terracotta rooftops and the Arno River.
Another entrance is from Costa San Giorgio 2, right next to the Fortezza Belvedere, Montecuccoli Hill, the medieval wall and the exit of the Boboli Gardens. The entrance to the Villa Bardini, where you will find a variety of temporary exhibits, is a separate ticket.
See side navigation bar for more information on the ticketing and garden hours.
Once Upon a Time the Gardens ...
In the beginning, all of this, was a fruit orchard. In the medieval times, gardens were nice, but they usually had a more practical objective and a position, like this, just outside the city walls was probably fundamental for supplying the family with food. The land for the garden and much of the hillside belonged to the Mozzi family - in fact, there is a document that testifies to a “garden” as far back as 1259.
The Mozzi family lost their property and then gained it back again in the late 1500’s. They managed to keep it in the family until 1880, when the family died out. During their possession, they continued to modify the gardens adding statues and flowers. They even purchased adjoining property, which added part of the Kaffeehaus along with it’s “grotta” (man made cave). After Mozzi passed away, everything was bought by Carolath Benten, and the garden took on various “victorian” aspects.
It wasn’t until Stefano Bardini, and the namesake of the gardens, came into possession of the land and villa that it began to take on its present shape. Unfortunately in doing so, the medieval aspects have been lost, but one must certainly admire the modifications he made which have left us with a peculiar masterpiece. It is this strange mix of styles which create an enchanting garden to explore.
The gardens were left to his son, who then passed them over to the city of Florence upon his death. They remained untouched, overgrown and in horrible condition until the year 2000 when a massive restoration project brought them back to life again.
Highlights in the Garden
Reopened to the public only a few years after a massive restoration project, this garden flashes brightly colored azaleas, viburnums, camellias, roses, irises and 60 varieties of hydrangea next to a more “functional” garden with a wide collection of typically Tuscan fruit-trees.
Undoubtedly, the most scenic part of the garden remains the great Baroque staircase and the Wisteria Tunnel, both of which lead to the Kaffeehaus and restaurant. The staircase built in the seventeenth century was enriched with statues and fountains at the end of the eighteenth century by Giulio Mozzi. From the panoramic terrace, in front of the restaurant, you can enjoy a spectacular view of the city. Nearby there are six fountains decorated with mosaics and a wide range of roses and iris flowers, as well as hydrangea and other decorative plants.
The Belvedere loggia was also a creation of Stefano Bardini’s; by enlarging the two small Kaffeehaus buildings in the eighteenth century and linking them using sandstone pillars from Pistoia, he created a grandiose finale to the scenography of the stairway.
At the top of the garden you will find the Fontana del Drago, featuring an Anglo-Chinese garden with a canal running along the one side. This area is part of the acquired land and the building was initiated by Jacques Louis Le Blanc at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was designed to surround the seventeenth-century villa Manadora (now part of Villa Bardini).
The “dragon” feeds the canal which was excavated and restored before the reopening of the gardens; it borders the grassy English style yard dotted with statues and blooming plants. The presence of a canal is quite unique in the Florentine gardens and is considered one of its distinguishing characteristics. The Villa Bardini borders the other side of the garden, and the paths open to a panoramic position over the garden, Baroque stairs and Wisteria display.
The third garden, within the Bardini Gardens, is that of the typical Tuscan fruit-trees, including several varieties of pears, plums, peaches and cherries.
a collection of ancient fruit trees typical of Tuscan gardens together with four examples of fruit tree cultivation were introduced: espaliered, cordoned, “free range” and dwarf
The European Garden Heritage Network (also known as EGHN) have included "Giardino Bardini" in their selected gardens to visit in Europe and their web page offers a very detailed description for those who are passionate about Renaissance gardens.
Follow Mother Nature in Florence
While you tour the stone and mortar jungle in Florence, remember there is a secluded and panoramic corner where you can relax among the greenery. Though inviting and spectacular all season long, spring is truly when the gardens show off their most colorful internal vistas. However, a visit at any time of the year will promise you splendid views of the city below.