The gardens that deserve the appellation of “great” have been many, through the ages and in almost all civilized countries. The fact that only those of Europe are treated here does not mean that there were no marvelous ones in Persia, for example, or in India, or that they do not exist in North and South America; it is simply that the discussion concerns the historically most important gardens for us Europeans, those that reflect the events and tastes of our old continent and that are therefore closer to our feelings and our conception of life. They are also the most numerous, since their construction covers centuries of history, artistic evolutions and rivalries between the powerful; kings, grand dukes, and nobles for a long time wanted to have palaces and castles, each one more beautiful than the others: the relative gardens were a source of pride no less than the splendid rooms and precious works of art; often, indeed, even more. It is obviously not possible to describe all of them splendid gardens that meander across Europe; we must therefore make a further choice, trying to speak not only of the most beautiful, but also of those most representative of a certain style or epoch.
Italy is rich in gardens and many of them have become property of the State for various events and for donations, while others are private and some of them can be visited on certain days. In Tuscany we find a large group of clearly Renaissance setting despite the subsequent changes that have not changed its essential character. The famous Boboli Gardens in Florence, begun around the middle of the 16th century, are rich in statues and vegetation: the most interesting motif is the road bordered by shaped hedges and centenary trees, which starts from the Belvedere and reaches the oval basin with islet and the famous statue of the Ocean performed by Giambologna. Stupendous for the proportions and the simple admirable scenography of the connection of the different levels is also Pan fi teatro. Next to Florence, near Settignano, we find the Villa della Gamberaia, whose structure dates back to `600; this, although not being
large (about one hectare), is in its main part a beautiful example of Italian garden, with its water mirrors placid and refined by oleanders that contrast with the topiary works; these give shape to quick cypresses, at rates, at low evergreens; a green lawn, exceptional for its length in a dry climate, and bordered by cypress trees, forms the connection with the baroque part, made up in part by a lovely eighteenth-century courtyard of exquisite workmanship.
Near Collodi there is the Villa Garzoni, whose garden, laterally displaced from the villa itself in an unusual way, constitutes a large scenography of spectacular, theatrically baroque ethnos. It starts from large parterres of flowers with two fountains with high central spurts and ascends the slope of a hill with three terraces articulated by stairs, fountains, central water games and side waterfalls to the steps; at the top two large fi gures symbolize Florence and Lucca, while at the top of a statue representing the Fama, a powerful jet of water flows back into the basin below. With Villa Marlía, next to Lucca, we enter into the heart of history, as it was bought in 1806 by Elisa Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister, Grand Duchess of Tuscany. It was built in 1600 and has beautiful gardens, among which we can mention the so-called “teatro di verzura”, a wonderful jewel created by shaping yew trees to form, in a hemicycle, wings, wings, boxes and even the pit for the prompter, all around a stage made of rasa grass and animated by statues representing the masks of the Italian theater. The garden, well preserved and very classic, has high hedges, especially shaped oaks, and an enchanting garden of lemon trees, with a large rectangular pond bordered by a balustrade with large terracotta pots containing lemons and flowers. In Northern Italy, we can remember in a special way, among the large gardens of which it is equipped, what stands on one of the four islands of Lake Maggiore, called the Borromeo Islands, and precisely Isola Bella, so called because in the second half of the 1600 the Count Carlo Borromeo built the palace on it that he dedicated to his wife Isabella: although the island is not the largest, the splendor of the garden that descends to the lake through ten sloping terraces covered with beautiful vegetation, and the baroque conception of buildings that border on extravagance (such as the water theater called “the pyramid”), make it an almost unique example due to the use of very delicate plant essences whose cultivation is made possible by the temperate climate of the lake.
ln different ways and in modern times the same phenomenon has allowed, always on the shores of Lake Maggiore, the very large and beautiful Villa Taranto, which represented until a few years ago the greatest botanical garden of the world belonging to a private, the Scotsman cap. Neil McEacharn, who dies, has left the Italian state.
Amazing for its speed of execution, as well as for its content, since the plant of 40 hectares and more of land was begun in about 1930, Villa Taranto is not only a collection of beautiful gardens but also one of the most beautiful collections of rare plants in Italy. Many are
the examples, which the climate allows outdoor life, cleverly arranged in slopes, valleys, meadows, ponds, and fountains so that the formal part is integrated with the landscape with absolute naturalness; large greenhouses also allow the conservation of rare plant species even in the Botanical Gardens.
In the Veneto region, the Villa Barbarigo in Valzanzibio, near Padua, brings us back, albeit with later additions, to the Renaissance garden, with its shaped hedges, long avenues and pools of water adorned with statues, artificial caves, and balustrades. In Lazio, despite the havoc perpetrated on the beautiful Roman villas, now disappeared or reduced to minimal proportions or public parks poorly maintained and semi-evicted, we still have a large group of gardens that maintain the ancient splendor unaltered. Obvious reasons of space allow us only to mention the most important or known as that of the Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola, a splendid example of a garden of 1500, and of the nearby Villa Lante in Bagnaia, still in the upper Lazio, whose plant was executed on Vignola’s design, which at that time presided over the works of Caprarola. The garden, in a very light slope, is on a single axis that culminates in a grotto fountain, called the fountain of the Flood: from this top the water follows the garden axis, flowing downwards and feeding a series of fountains which form a real sequence of parterres alternating with the shaped and fiery ones. In the same Rome we still have beautiful gardens, like those of Villa Medici or the Vatican, but certainly, none of them is as famous as the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, which began in the middle of the 16th century at the behest of Cardinal Ippolito d’Este. Pirro Ligorio and water technician Oliviero Olivieri, famous at the time, who undoubtedly lavished all his art on it. In fact, water is, it can be said, the true essence of the garden,
the main protagonist: gushes from a thousand waterfalls, flows through unexpected streams, rises majestically from monumental fountains or placid stagnates re fl ecting the canopy of cypresses, forms games and jokes, creating a unique work in the world, not only in the Renaissance, but in all the ages; in fact, even if in the French gardens we find a great abundance of water, it assumes only the appearance of grandeur and not of life in itself. Villa d’Este is a garden formed of water, but not an aquatic garden; it is built from an architecture that employs a fluid material and in which the stable elements
(stone, trees) have only a secondary role. Among the most famous fountains, we will mention that of the organ, which has musical devices regulated by water, that of Girandola and the famous avenue of Fontanelle, also called “one hundred cinnamon”. To find a wealth of water, even more as an extension, but different as a concept and architectural use, we must arrive in the mid-1700s when Vanvitelli began work on the Royal Park of Caserta. Here the abundance of water is extraordinary, but it is no longer an element of surprise: it forms a central axis sloping like a single chain that flows from a fountain into a fountain, from a waterfall to a waterfall, from a basin to a basin. These elements are connected to each other by marble channels and groups: the bold project required more than 30 kilometers of the aqueduct, with ducts and galleries, and was, by that time, a work of exceptional dimensions. Woods of holm oaks and tall trees frame the real garden, hiding the borders and making the park much broader by a skillful play of perspectives and visuals. To conclude this rapid review of the great Italian villas, we will mention the ancient, though abundantly remodeled, Villa Rufolo in Ravello: it is influenced by both Arabic and Roman influences and, blending flows and ruins, extends like a magical terrace overlooking the sea. between gardens and pergolas where the notes of Wagnerian music linger; we will also mention the eighteenth-century Villa Tasca, in Palermo, transformed through time into a tropical and picturesque corner with a flourishing not easily traceable elsewhere in Italy.
France. When one thinks of the French gardens, the mind immediately runs to a name: Versailles, the largest park in the world, one in which probably more history has passed than in any other, among its fiery parterres, its groves, its fountains and the numerous buildings added through the decades by whims and ambitions of kings and queens. Woods, swamps, and land around the village of Versailles belonged to Louis XIII who loved to go hunting, but the park was started only in 1660 by Louis XIV, still very young (he had ascended the throne only four years, seventeen years old before): in the year following the planning and execution of the grandiose work, they were entrusted to André Le Nôtre, the most famous garden architect ever to exist. He had already given France his first masterpiece with the garden of the castle of Vaux-Le-Vicomte, belonging to Fouquet, minister of the king’s finances: it seems, indeed, that precisely because he was humbled by the splendor of this work, Louis XIV decided to to make Versailles something unique in the world and to have the Fouquet arrested, who died in prison. The works were long and difficult, although the deployment of the means used was impressive: what appears to us today as a sloping prospect, with the large raised terrace facing the villa, was a specially created hill; a river was diverted to allow the construction of canals, the largest of which required the leveling of a rise; with the passing of time everything continued to be enlarged, embellished, sometimes radically modified, and yet the final result also appears to be a splendid work of the whole.
From the terrace of the villa, there is a 400-meter-long avenue with turf, preceded by ramps, hemicycles, fountains and ending in the basin of Apollo, beyond which lies the Great Canal (a surface of more than twenty hectares) that leads to about three kilometers the central axis. On the sides, groves, various gardens, the water heater, the round colonnade, fountains and groups of statues of fine artistic value are adorned and interspersed with hundreds of various works of art, from vases and urns to basins with a total of 1400 gushes of water. Over time, the two buildings of the Grand and Petit Trianon were added, the latter very dear to Marie Antoinette, who completely nourished the garden according to the style of the time.
Survived by the Revolution and the Napoleonic era, Versailles was transformed, at the time of Louis Philippe, into national property, with the museum in the villa, and so that after so much history and so many events, we can still admire its amazing gardens, where perhaps at night, many illustrious shadows wander. The aforementioned Vaux-Le-Vicomte which, as we have said, constitutes André Le Nôtre’s first masterpiece, at the same time forms the most classical model of French Renaissance garden and is essentially formed by a huge expanse of sloping land from the castle front, divided in two very large parterres, with fi ne-shaped and embroidered flowerbeds (the so-called << broderies >>) and adorned with statues and water basins, the largest of these, at a lower level, is immediately before the river’s crossroads Anqueil, canalized for one kilometer and widened in the central point of intersection with the axis of the garden, in which it is embedded in a wall with caves and waterfalls.
Woods and tall trees frame this magnificence and are scattered and decorated with sculptures and surprise gardens with fountains and flowerbeds. Among the other famous gardens created by Le Nôtre we can mention Marly, built always by desire of Louis XIV between Versailles and Saint-Germain; Saint-Cloud, which offers a splendid view of Paris, and above all Chantilly, one of the most famous works of the great architect, built where the castle of the princes of Condé already existed and unfortunately much altered over the centuries; in its main part, however, it retains the wide breadth of its basins and channels between lawns and fiery platforms. Antecedent to all these is the garden of the castle of Villandry next to Tours; this more than its beauty, too schematic and formalistic for our taste, owes its fame to being the only garden, among those of the castles of the Loire, in which a careful reconstruction allows us an exact vision of this that it could have been a French garden prior to the Renaissance (but already partly subjected to Italian influence in 1500), when the castles were still based on a defensive rather than aesthetic; it is composed of several successive terraces divided into various sectors, some of which present only innumerable paths between complicated drawings of shaped hedges; others, on the other hand, have vegetable labyrinths or trellises and roses pergolas. Overall, the reconstruction of this garden carried out recently after the destruction of previous centuries, and in particular those of the century. XIX, is more important as an example than as a beauty.
Gennania. For one of those coincidences that make history so singular, while France is rich in beautiful gardens especially by virtue of its strongly centralized government (the kings of France really hold a record in this field), Germany it has many gardens, even if not all of them sumptuous and famous, precisely because of the divisions of its territory, in the likeness of what had happened in Italy. As in Italy, it happened among princes, grand dukes, cardinals, so in Germany voters and archbishops wanted their gardens, competing among themselves and sometimes even with the heads of foreign states. One of the largest, most beautiful and famous gardens in Germany is that of Nymphenburg in Munich which, in the second half of the 1600s, when the works were started, under Ferdinand, was one of the brightest capitals in Europe: Bavaria in fact, despite its complicated historical events, it was one of the most important electorates. Initiated by the Italian architect Barelli, the project was suspended due to war and only resumed in the second decade of the eighteenth century, a period of which remains a classic example despite the many changes made later in the Romantic era. The castle winds with vast wings and it is this vastness that determines in the part of the entrance, in front on the façade, the enormous exedra with two large water basins flanked by very spacious lawns and formed by a canal that flows towards the city. This same canal, preceded by vast parterres, is found in the back part of the park itself: it flows in a central axis, at the sides of which groves and avenues intersect and conceal three delightful pavilions. Moreover, Bavaria is full of more or less sumptuous gardens, like that of Schloss Linderhof, and the one erected on a Chiemsee island, Herrenchiemsee, a small copy of Versailles; at least these were the intentions of the mad king of Bavaria Ludwig ll who ended his days by throwing himself (l886) into the lake of Sternberg, near which he had built another castle. Among the other eighteenth-century gardens, rich in sculptures, green lawns and flowers but often also of strange buildings and works that resent the beginning of the English landscape garden, we find Schwetzingen near Würtzburg, created for Carlo Teodoro, elector Palatine, by the French architect De Pigage (modified later by the German von Skell) which included not only false ruins and an obelisk, but even a mosque!
Austria. In the various phases of rivalry between powerful houses and European rulers, we can not forget Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, former residence of the Habsburgs, built in 1695 on a project by Fischer von Erlach and renovated in 1749 by Nicolò Pacassi; Maria Theresa of Austria wanted to provide it with a rival park with the most beautiful in Europe. The park itself dates back to 1705, but in its final form, with its parterres and fountains, it is very similar to that of Versailles. There is also a very important greenhouse especially considering the era in which it was built.
When we speak of an English garden, the mind immediately goes to that kind of landscaped garden that we are used to calling in this way. It is true that part of the garden in England developed later than in Italy and France, but for this reason it is right to mention, among the later ones, also gardens (such as Hampton Court), begun, enlarged and embellished by l600: these constitute an example of classicism that, even in the subsequent variations, is influenced by the influence of Italian artists who started it.
Here we find not only one axis, but three large avenues (of which the central one is the most important) that starting from a large semicircular parterre in front of the villa, diverge among themselves extending to the borders of the park. Classically, the central avenue includes a long canal of about one kilometer, and, as can be seen from the engravings of the period, further lateral parterres adorned the building. Other gardens of the end of 1600 have undergone such transformations that they no longer allow us to find the classic or Renaissance model that inspired them. This happened for the magnificent Blenheim castle park which was donated by the State to the Duke of Marlbourough and started by a classical model: later (1770) it was modified to such an extent by Lancelot Brown that the course of a river towards a pre-existing valley. A dam was created to obtain a large lake with islands, groups of trees were appropriately distributed and the whole aspect of the whole changed, with the only residue of a rectangular parterre bordered on two sides by two wings of the castle. One of the first examples of European garden with landscape, totally designed in this way and not the effect of changes, we have it in the garden of Stourhead, started around 1730: even here there is a valley full of water and barred by a dike and a lake remarkable proportions, whose slopes in slope appear to be even more accentuated by the use of tree species of different heights and whose different colors, especially in autumn, offer a show worthy of a painting by Claude Lorraine.
Many ornamental constructions are scattered in the park: some quite dubious taste, like the reduced Copies of the Pantheon of Rome or the temple of Baalbek, other original and truly splendid, as the so-called “market cross” of 1373, or an ancient and well kept cottage; a cave, in which some springs flow that feed the river, is adorned with statues with a surprisingly romantic effect. More or less large and impressive, the English gardens are an in fi nity, mostly composed of intermediate styles that, starting with the Elizabethan one, reach up to romanticism, passing through all the phases of landscape art, from pictorial to deliberately spontaneous; in none of them, however, one reaches such a wisely savage aspect as in the garden of Tresco Abbey, one of the largest in the Scilly group, not far from the tip of Cornwall, where the Gulf Stream softens the climate to make possible crops that are hardly found on the mildest coasts of the Mediterranean; this despite rare but violent storms that have led ships to shipwreck on the coast of the islands; a collection of ancient poles of such ships constitutes the so-called << Valhalla >>, in the park, and it is certainly one of the most fascinating things of this strange northern and semiropical corner at the same time. The park itself is all sloping terraced, from the house, built on the remains of an ancient convent in the first half of 1800, up to the sea, with avenues and rock gardens that host plants and trees from many hot countries, from palm trees to aloe, from succulent South-African to South American trees, in apparent, studied disorder. Typically English, such as prototypes, we can say of the “natural” garden, appear instead the Royal Windsor Park and its gardens: here, conserving and opportunely thinning old trees and pre-existing to the design, new arborescent and arborescent essences were planted creating a landscape very refined where, in the shade of the oaks and the beeches, they flourish beautiful rhododendrons and the meadows are embellished with narcissuses to make them look really spontaneous; particularly beautiful and a garden that collects all the old varieties of rose.
Although Spain, due to the disparity of its climates and the drought of most of them, is much less rich in gardens than the other countries considered, we find the famous Alhambra, the oldest garden in Europe: started in early 1200 the reconstruction and expansion of the pre-existing citadel, throughout the 1300 it was continually enlarged and embellished with gardens that, except for some later additions, have reached us in the original form assumed under the Moorish dominion. The gardens of the Alhambra and of the neighboring Generalife are detached from our usual concept: they do not consist of a single extension, large or small, which forms a frame or extension of enclosed spaces, but consists of a whole fragmentary, yet perfectly harmonious, of courtyards, of that particular kind of courtyard called patio, in which each one is a garden in itself and yet connected with the others, like a series of green open-air rooms, adorned with trees, fountains and gushes, which could in a certain sense be considered the southern equivalent of the northern conception of a park formed by many gardens, each different from the others, divided by hedges or various works in order to have its own physiognomy. In the succession of courtyards of all sizes, all beautiful for the decorative arts that adorn them, the most striking thing in a country so dry, is abundance and the reason for the water that flows there, like the large basin of the Patio de los Arrayahes, the canal with spouts of the Patio de la Riadh, the Patio of Lindaraja with its centuries-old cypress trees encircling the graceful fountain; even the most famous, the Patio de los leones, which today only brings to the center the beautiful gushing fountain surrounded by lions, must have once been decorated with plants and flowers, as can be seen from the engravings of the period. A world of fairy tales, the echo of “The Thousand and One Nights” echoes, with the water and the thin columns, in this place, unique in Europe.
Among the gardens of other countries, we can briefly recall Portugal, with the formal garden of Queluz in the north of Lisbon, whose rosy walls of what was once the royal palace open onto a large parterre of hedges and shaped trees ( French and Italian influence) and the Frontier garden. This has a particular originality due to the enormous use of brightly colored tiles, usually in white and blue, and in fact their name is «azulejos >>, also used in Queluz; here, however, they form murals, ornamental and real paintings depicting knights and mythical scenes that are reflected in the water of the large pool or frame caves, terraces, parapets. We find a garden that is different from the others in Holland: in Keukenhof, a vast expanse of land, which had become impossible by private individuals, was saved by the Dutch bulbs who used it as an annual display of their production. Every year, from the end of March to the middle of May, more than 10 million bulbs grow in this garden that maintains a completely spontaneous appearance, despite the enormous quantity of flowers that it hosts and in spite of the landscape adaptation necessary to harmonize colors and shapes in the undergrowth or in the meadows or along the canal. Many other gardens deserve to be remembered and named; it is certain, however, that in every part of our Europe, or almost, the traveler can recreate his spirit and admire the wonderful associations that nature and art have been able to create through the centuries.