Palermo is blessed with several beautiful parks and gardens.
You’ll find them on my map.
This glasshouse is in the Parco Piersanti Mattarella aka the Giardino Inglese. The garden was designed in 1851 by Giovan Battista Filippo Basile (father of Ernesto, see earlier post). The garden’s design follows the natural shapes and irregularities of the ground, a pattern very popular in the nineteenth century, giving it a more natural feel, hence the name “English garden”, as opposed to the measured and geometric space of the so-called Italian garden. Sadly the park has been in a state of disrepair for many years but it still makes for a nice walk.
Many of the plants in the Giardino Inglese come from the Orto Botanico di Palermo, founded in 1786. Between 1787 and 1794 the French architect Léon Dufourny came to Sicily to study and analyse the ancient Greek temples on the island. Dufourny used this knowledge to design the Entrance Temple to the botanical garden, in the newly fashionable Neoclassical style (built in 1789). Originally set up for the cultivation of medicinal plants useful for teaching and public health, the botanical garden is currntly home to over 12,000 different species of plants from all over the world, including important collections of citrus and cacti. It also has an Acquarium, a large tank for aquatic plants. However the symbol of the garden is the huge Ficus Macrophylla (aka Moreton Bay fig, Australian Banyan or Ficus Magnolioide), which was imported from the Norfolk Islands in Australia in 1845. My understanding is that all the other Ficus in Sicily are cuttings from this tree.
Click on the gallery to go to slideshow…
Next door to the Orto Botanico is the Villa Giulia which I plan to visit on my next trip.
Another much smaller but still pleasant park is the Giardino Garibaldi in Piazza Marina. Like the Giardino Inglese, the garden was built between 1861 and 1864 by the architect Giovan Battista Filippo Basile and was named after the national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi to celebrate the birth of the Italian nation, which had just occurred. The intriguing cast iron fence, produced by the Oretea foundry, dates back to the same period. Among the many exotic plants that are located inside, the star is again a majestic Ficus Macrophylla, this example being considered the largest tree in Europe and one of the oldest in Italy, with a height of 30 meters, and a trunk circumference of over 21 meters.
Another nice park is the Villa Trabia which began life in 1756 as a private garden until 1984, when it was acquired by the Municipality of Palermo. The park has a Baroque villa (now a library), some ancient greenhouses, fountains and, inevitably, some more impressive Ficus Macrophylla.
Finally, I had a look (just go in it’s free) at the courtyards of the ancient Palazzo Ajutamicristo, which are full of banana trees. The Gothic-Catalan style building with its arched terraces dates from 1485, but I understand the interior (much of it now a museum and a gallery) is Baroque.
A bit of archaeology next…