The Boboli Gardens were part of the modifications of the Palazzo Pitti made by the Medici Family. The Palazzo Pitti (sometimes called the Pitti Palace) is a vast mainly Renaissance building in Florence. It is situated on the south side of the River Arno, a short distance from the Ponte Vecchio.


Left: an early, tinted 20th-century photograph of the Palazzo Pitti, then still known as La Residenza Reale following the residency of King Emmanuel II between 1865-71, when Florence was the capital of Italy.

The construction of this severe, almost forbidding, building was commissioned in 1458 by the Florentine banker Luca Pitti, a principal supporter and friend of Cosimo de' Medici. The early history of the Palazzo Pitti is a mixture of fact and myth. Pitti wanted to build, it was said, a large palazzo which would outshine the Palazzo Medici. It is claimed that he specifically instructed that the windows should be larger than the entrance of the Palazzo Medici. It has been said by no less a person than Vasari that Brunelleschi was the palazzo's architect, and that his pupil Luca Fancelli was simply his assistant in the task - today it is Fancelli that is generally credited. Besides obvious differences from the elder architect's style, Brunelleschi died 12 years before construction of the palazzo began. The design and fenestration suggest that the unknown architect was more experienced in utilitarian domestic architecture than in the humanist rules defined by Alberti in his book De Re Aedificatoria.

The original palazzo, though impressive, would have been no rival to the magnificence of the Florentine Medici residences in terms of either size or content. Whoever the architect of the Palazzo Pitti was, he was moving against the contemporary flow of fashion. The rusticated stonework gives the palazzo a severe and powerful atmosphere, reinforced by the three times repeated series of seven arch-headed apertures, reminiscent of a Roman aqueduct. The Roman-style architecture appealed to the Florentine love of the new style all'antica. This original design has withstood the test of time, and its influence has been maintained and continued during the subsequent additions to the palazzo. Work stopped after Pitti suffered financial reverses following the death of Cosimo de' Medici in 1464. Luca Pitti died in 1472 with the building uncompleted.

The building was sold in 1549 by Buonaccorso Pitti, a descendant of Luca Pitti, to Eleonora di Toledo. Raised at the luxurious court of Naples, Eleonora was the wife of Cosimo I de' Medici of Tuscany, now the Grand Duke. On moving into the palace, Cosimo had Vasari enlarge the structure to fit his tastes; the palace was more than doubled by the addition of a new block onto the rear. Vasari also built an above-ground walkway from Cosimo's old palace, the Palazzo Vecchio, through the Uffizi, above the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti.

Land on the hill called Boboli at the rear of the palazzo was acquired in order to create a large formal park, the Boboli Gardens. The Boboli Gardens lie behind Palazzo Pitti in Florence, where today they form the city's park. When Cosimo de'Medici's wife, Eleanor of Toledo, bought the estate from the Pitti family in 1549, she commissioned Tribolo, who was already working at Villa Castello to design the gardens. By the summer of 1550 Tribolo was dead, but, according to his contemporary Giorgio Vasari in Lives of the Artists, he had in less than a year designed the whole layout of the hill behind the palace and the planting of the boschi. After his death Tribolo was quickly succeeded by Bartolommeo Ammanati. The original design of the gardens centred on an amphitheatre, behind the corps de logis of the palazzo, in which the classically-inspired plays of Florentine playwrights such as Giovan Battista Cini were performed for the amusement of the cultivated Medici court, with elaborate sets designed by the court architect Baldassarre Lanci.

250px-Pitti_boboli_utens.jpgA lunette (left) painted in 1599 by Giusto Utens, depicts the palazzo before its extensions, with the amphitheatre and the Boboli Gardens behind. The red stone excavated from the site was used in extensions to the palazzo.

The gardens were substantially enlarged in the seventeenth century, and it was then that the central axis demarcated by the Cypress Avenue, or Viottolone, was laid out. A stroll along the Cypress Avenue takes you to the Island Pond, or Isolotto. Created by Alfonso Parigi in 1614, this garden 'room' is based on the Maritime Theatre at Hadrian's Villa. In the middle is an oval basin with a small island in the centre. Here stands the Fountain of the Ocean by Giambologna (1550), with Neptune and other sea gods below representing the Nile, the Ganges and the Euphrates. Statues of other mythological figures, including Perseus and Andromeda, rise out of the water. Up some steps is the Knight's Garden, or Giardino del Cavaliere. In May the terrace is full of flowering peonies as well as Banksian, Tea and Bourbon roses. The view of farmland and medieval towers gives you an idea of what the landscape south of the Arno would have looked like before the fifteenth century. On the way out is the great Amphitheatre, where the Medici family staged plays and entertainments.

boboli_hill.jpgThe Cypress Avenue, planted in 1614, forms the main axis of the Boboli Gardens. The niches hold Classical statues, many of them copies of Roman originals.

boboli_fount.jpgRising out of the water of the Island Pond are statues of mythological figures, including the white marble Andromeda by Giovan Battista Pieratti.

boboli_amphi.jpgThe horseshoe-shaped Amphitheatre, built in a natural valley behind the palace, looks like a Roman hippodrome. The lawn is surrounded by seating for the audience, niches with statues and tightly pruned trees.The landscape architect employed for this was the Medici court artist Niccolo

With the garden project well in hand, Ammanati turned his attentions to creating a large courtyard immediately behind the principal facade, to link the palazzo to its new garden. This courtyard has heavy-banded channelled rustication that has been widely copied, notably for the Parisian palais of Maria de' Medici, the Luxembourg. Ammanati also created the finestre inginocchiate("kneeling" windows, in reference to their imagined resemblance to a prie-dieu, a device of Michelangelo's) in the principal facade, replacing the entrance bays at each end. During the years 1558-70, Ammanati created a monumental staircase to lead with more pomp to the piano nobile, and he extended the wings on the garden front that embraced a courtyard excavated into the steeply sloping hillside at the same level as the piazza in front, from which it was visible through the central arch of the basement. On the garden side of the courtyard Amannati constructed a grotto, called the "grotto of Moses" for the porphyry statue that inhabits it. On the terrace above it, level with the piano nobile windows, Ammanati constructed a fountain centered on the axis; it was later replaced by the Fontana del Carciofo ("Fountain of the Artichoke"), designed by Giambologna's former assistant, Francesco Susini, and completed in 1641.

In 1616 a competition was opened to design extensions to the principal urban facade by three bays at either end. Giulio Parigi won the commission; work on the north side began in 1618, and on the south side in 1631 by Alfonso Parigi. During the 18th century, two perpendicular wings were constructed by the architect Giuseppe Ruggeri to enhance and stress the widening of via Romana, which creates a piazza centered on the fa├žade, the prototype of the cour d'honneur that was copied in France. Sporadic lesser additions and alterations were made for many years thereafter under other rulers and architects.

Palazzo_Pitti.jpgLeft: a 19th-century architectural drawing and plan of the Palazzo Pitti.

The palazzo remained the principal Medici residence until the last male Medici heir died in 1737, whereupon it passed to the new Grand Dukes of Tuscany, the Austrian House of Lorraine, in the person of Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor. The Austrian tenancy was briefly interrupted by Napoleon, who used the Pitti during his period of control over Italy.

When Tuscany passed from the House of Lorraine to the House of Savoy in 1860, the Palazzo Pitti was included. After the Risorgimento, when Florence was briefly the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II resided in the Pitti until 1871. His grandson, Vittorio Emanuele III, presented the Pitti to the nation in 1919. The palazzo and other buildings in the Boboli Gardens then became divided into five separate art galleries and a museum, housing not only many of its original contents, but priceless artifacts from many other collections acquired by the state. The 140 rooms open to the public are part of an interior, which is in large part a later product than the original portion of the structure, mostly created in two phases, one in the 17th century and the other in the early 18th century. Some earlier interiors remain, and there are still later additions such as the Throne Room. In 2005 the surprise discovery of forgotten 18th-century bathrooms in the palazzo revealed remarkable examples of contemporary plumbing very similar in style to the bathrooms of the 21st century.

The palazzo is now the largest museum complex in Florence. The area of the principal palazzo block, is 32,000 square metres. It is divided into several principal galleries or museums.