The Vatican Gardens, for centuries reserved for the exclusive use of the Supreme Pontiffs, remain an oasis of peace where it is possible to stroll and meditate, admiring nature's beauties.
Their layout, extending over roughly thirty of the forty-four hectares which comprise the overall surface of the Vatican City State, dates back to the second half of the thirteenth century, when Pope Niccolò III Orsini (1277-1280), a deeply cultured man and a great connoisseur of medicinal plants, commissioned a viridarium novum on Vatican Hill. This garden, with its entrance right behind the Apostolic Buildings, has always specialised in the culture of medicinal herbs tended by the Pontiff's Archiaters.
Even today the Vatican Gardens have the appearance of a sort of hortus conclusus, mostly enclosed by walls erected between the papacies of Pius IV Medici (1559-1565) and Pius V Ghislieri (1566-1572). These walls were to become the boundary of one of the smallest States in the world after the Lateran Treaty of 1929.
The Vatican Gardens still reflect the centuries-old fusion between nature, art and faith, enriched and decorated over time by numerous Pontiffs who all enjoyed strolling here, as does the present incumbent. Not only is it the oldest botanical establishment in Italy, where countless species of Mediterranean plants and exotic flowers from various continents continue to coexist, created by the great Simone da Genova, more than two hundred and fifty years before the Botanical Gardens in Padova (1545) and Pisa (1563), but it also contains a devotional path dedicated to the Virgin Mary, developed over time, which winds amongst the lawns, box hedges and secular trees.
Now open to the public, the Vatican Gardens offer the possibility of admiring a myriad of fountains and archaeological remains which, amongst the little houses, towers and ancient walls nestling in the vegetation, exalt the spiritual and intellectual greatness of the Popes who have inspired and enjoyed this marvellous space.
Written by dott. Sandro Barbagallo
Curator of Historical Collections of the Vatican Museums.