On a walk in our new Florence neighborhood – the Oltrarno area – we discovered something rather mysterious. A very long and very high wall extended the length of several city blocks near our apartment. We could see glorious mature trees surpassing the wall in height, and we heard birds calling. Could it be a garden? If so, there were no openings and no entrance to indicate how to gain entry.
When we returned home, a search on google maps indicated it was Giardini Torrigiani. More searching and we discovered that the hidden garden is private, but, with an email request, we might be able to take a tour, the only way to gain entrance.
We emailed our request and days passed. The next week we received an email from Vieri Torrigiani Malaspina inviting us to join a tour on one of our last days in Florence.
In preparation for our visit, we read all that we could about the garden.
One hundred years later, Pier Antonio Micheli, the founder of scientific mycology and noted botanist, worked in the garden. In 1716 he and others founded the Italian Botanical Society.
When Pietro Torrigiani (1773-1848) inherited and expanded the garden, he hired a famous landscaper, Luigi De Cambray Digny, who changed the look of the garden to the popular English-style.
The more we read, the more excited we were to see the garden. Giardini Torrigiani is the largest private garden in Europe, still owned by the Torrigiani family who live within its 27-acre (7 hectares) walled estate.
Vieri greeted us at a door in the wall and introduced us to the others taking the 1.5 hour tour. As we strolled, he told us of his passion and commitment to the garden.
The tower contained a library and astronomical instruments. It had a mechanical lift, as well as circular stone steps. Sadly, the tower is no longer safe for visitors.
Near the base of the tower, and protected by old stone walls and a bastion built by Cosimo Medici in 1544, was a crypt. Vieri unlocked it so we could go inside. Before it could be used, Italian laws changed, so it was never put in use.
All the while Vieri told us stories about the garden, the family, and the importance of all that had taken place in the garden. We were spellbound. There is a sculpture in the garden of Seneca, the Roman philosopher, and the young Pietro Torrigiani. Pio Fedi, the sculptor, was known for his work, “The Rape of Polyxena” in 1865. We had just seen that piece in the Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence.
At the tour’s end we were all invited into Vieri’s house for afternoon tea – a lovely, hospitable way to conclude our visit to the garden.
In our many years of traveling, we could not think of another experience we had that was quite like this. The botanical garden itself was magnificent. The historical background was fascinating. And Vieri was a most charming host for an incredible tour.