Journeying through the gardens and the mysteries of Florence’s Oltrarno: the fourth itinerary of the map curated by the hosts

The Airbnb hosts of Oltrarno created a map to support and share the local artisans and the cultural spots in Oltrarno, collaborating with associations and local communities in order to share the most special locations with travellers visiting the city, and supporting small businesses and local traditions.

Our fourth and last walk is titled,“Eclectic by Nature.” You’ll discover the most breathtaking gardens in Florence, and the magic of some very special museums.

Oltrarno is a true inspiration for nature lovers, especially in the spring and summer seasons when gardens come to life after a long winter. One of the most beautiful gardens is the Giardino dell’Iris, where our walk starts. It is located in Piazzale Michelangelo and it is only opened when irises blossom from April 25th until May 20th. It was founded in 1954 to host an international botanical contest of irises, called “Florence Award.” Florence seemed like the perfect place as the city always had a historical connection with this flower.  For instance, in its coat of arms there is a red iris on a white background (it is not a lily, like many assume). Here, you’ll find 2,000 botanical species of irises and an amazing view.

The next stop is the Giardino delle Rose (open year-round) which holds 1,000 botanical species, among them are 350 Old Roses. In 1998, a small Japanese oasis designed by the architect Yasuo Kitayama was built. It features the Zen Koˉdai-ji temple. Since 2011 the Garden also features ten bronze sculptures and two plasters by Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon.

Next, we walk until reaching a historic garden in Oltrarno, the Giardino Bardini. The park is located on the Hill of Montecuccoli, and belonged since Medieval times to the Mozzi family, adjoined to their palace.  In a document from 1259, it is described as, “walled vegetable garden”. The real concept of a garden did not take form until Renaissance. In the 1800’s, Giacomo Le Blanc bought the mansion and transformed the land into an English garden. The most impressive part of it is the large Baroque staircase that ends with a building from which you can admire a wonderful view of the city. If you love this kind of view, don’t miss the Forte Belvedere which is nearby. The Hills of Oltrarno were largely known as the weakest point within the defense strategy of the city, even more with the advent of the Modern Age that brought artillery. When the grand ducal Court moved from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti with Ferdinando I, a new fortress was needed adjoining the walls that surrounded the Boboli Gardens. This was put in place in case of intramural fights, the prince and his court could retreat rapidly and safely to a fortified location.

We are now headed to the “magic” of Florence: The Museum of Natural History La Specola, the oldest scientific museum in Europe. It opened to the public in 1775. It consists of many anatomical wax figures from half of 1700. At the time the only way to teach and to learn anatomy was through the dissection of corpses, but the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo, a forward-thinking man, asked that wax figures were created in order to teach anatomy. Some of these wax figures are so well-known to have a names. For instance, there is, “Lo Spellato” (The Flayed Man), with blood vessels and capillaries built having wax dripping from silk strings.  The Museum also boasts an ancient taxidermy collection. Over 3 million of taxidermied animals are kept at Museo La Specola although only a small part (around 5,000) are on display.

Nearing the end of the walk at Bobolino, named after Giardino dei Boboli–it’s a small-scale, picturesque version of the garden. Then we head towards the Osservatorio Astrofisico di Arcetri, an astrophysical observatory located in the hilly area of Arcetri. Observatory staff carry out theoretical and observational astronomy as well as designing and constructing astronomical instrumentation: it is one of the most renowned in Europe.