orto botanico

The Botanical Garden of San Costanzo - Perugia

The history of "simples" gardens

A green gate near the Church of San Costanzo serves as the entrance to the Perugia Botanical Garden, just like the medieval one at the San Pietro Complex, which is part of CAMS, the University of Perugia's Center for Scientific Museums.

The botanical garden was established in the city in 1720, but the discipline of Botany was introduced in Perugia two centuries earlier, in the sixteenth century. "Theory and practice of simples" were taught, which included the study of substances, mostly derived from plants, used as medicinal ingredients. The medieval gardens already present in the city, cultivated by apothecaries and pharmacists, provided the material for their lessons.

A second garden was established in 1799 by Annibale Mariotti, a university professor. It had a short life. After the defeat of the Roman Republic by Austrian troops, Mariotti, a fervent supporter of the Jacobin cause, was removed from all academic and political positions, and his experimental project fell into disfavor.

The garden we visit today was born in 1966: a facility used as a vineyard and orchard for students and professors, with an olive grove from the early eighteenth century still present, bearing witness to the ancient Umbrian agricultural landscape.

The Umbrian valleys, the history of the Rose, and the seeds from Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The botanical garden houses a wide variety of plants, approximately 1000 different species and cultivars from Italy and various parts of the world, organized into sections based on phylogenetic criteria.

Among the most interesting sections are those of conifers, where rare specimens can be admired, such as the striking Loricato Pine from the Pollino Massif, American Sequoias, and the Nebrodi Mountains Fir, considered extinct at the beginning of the century, with only twenty-four individuals remaining in the wild.

Another section is that of angiosperms. Here, you can observe two important endemics: the Marsican Iris, also found in the Umbrian mountains, and the Farnetto, an oak tree that testifies to the millennia-old history of the now rare lowland forests in the region. Interestingly, in the province of Terni, there is a small village called Farnetta, named after the extensive Farnetto forests in the area.

Continuing the visit, you reach a large rose garden that tells the history of rose cultivation, from European, Middle Eastern, American, and Asian botanical species to modern fragrant and reblooming roses. A curiosity: the first tea rose was isolated in the garden of Malmaison by Giuseppina Bonaparte, from which many of today's well-known roses are descended.

The journey continues through both cold and hot greenhouses. In the section dedicated to desert plants, you can see the rare Welwitschia, a gymnosperm endemic to Angola and Namibia, characterized by having only two leaves that grow at the base throughout its life.

From Africa, the tour takes you to Lake Trasimeno, with its aquatic plants, some of which are now extinct, such as the Marsh Fern (Thelypteris), the Water Chestnut (Trapa), the White Water Lily - the Agilla of legend.

Not to be missed are the Hibaku jumoku, literally "trees bombed by the atomic bomb," which survived the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and heat measured at two kilometers from the epicenter, equivalent to 40 times that of the sun. Some specimens have sprouted from their seeds, including the Muku tree (Aphananthe) and the Ginkgo biloba, the world's most famous living fossil among plants.

These trees symbolize peace and the sacredness of nature, as well as the historical connection between Perugia and Japan, dating back to June 8, 1585, when the first Japanese diplomatic mission visited the San Pietro Monumental Complex in Europe. Collections of Japanese maples and cherry trees also foreshadow the future development of a Japanese-themed path in the garden, starting with a Tea Ceremony Garden.

The Perfume Garden

After admiring and visiting the botanical garden and discovering the secrets of its plants, don't miss an interactive and sensory experience. An accessible pathway and wooden handrails lead you to a garden to touch and explore with your sense of smell.

Taking the famous naturalist photographer William Arthur Pucher (1891-1988) as a reference point, a surprising pyramid of scents is presented inside, where plants are classified based on their persistence: top notes that last a few minutes, heart notes that leave a trail, and base notes that last a long time.

The pathway was inaugurated in 2019. The setup, complete with Braille panels, was created by asylum seekers and individuals with special needs, highlighting the importance of a museum that is not only engaging but also accessible and inclusive.

You can touch, smell, and rediscover aromatic, citrusy, fruity, spicy, and many other scents that will transport your mind and memories. Will you be able to recognize them?

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