Tradition says that the site of the Vatican Gardens was spread with earth brought from Golgotha by Saint Helena to symbolically unite the blood of Christ with that shed by thousands of early Christians, who died in the persecutions of Nero.
The gardens date back to medieval times when orchards and vineyards extended to the north of the Papal Apostolic Palace. In 1279 Pope Nicholas III (Giovanni Gaetano Orsini, 1277–1280) moved his residence back to the Vatican from the Lateran Palace and enclosed this area with walls. He planted an orchard (pomerium), a lawn (pratellum) and a garden (viridarium).
The site received a major re-landscaping at the beginning of the 16th century, during the papacy of Julius II. Donato Bramante's original design was then split into three new courtyards, the Cortili del Belvedere, the “della Biblioteca” and the “della Pigna” (or Pine Cone) in the Renaissance landscape design style. Also in Renaissance style, a great rectangular Labyrinth, formal in design, set in boxwood and framed with Italian stone pines, (Pinus pinea) and cedars of Lebanon, (Cedrus libani). In place of Nicholas III's enclosure, Bramante built a great rectilinear defensive wall.
Vatican gardens today
Today's Vatican Gardens are spread over nearly 23 hectares , they contain a variety of medieval fortifications, buildings and monuments from the 9th century to the present day, set amongst vibrant flower beds and topiary, green lawns and a 3 hectares patch of forest. There are a variety of fountains spreading freshness over the gardens, while sculpture and artificial grottoes proclaim devotion to the Madonna, and an olive tree donated by the government of Israel, extends its three verdant branches.
Vatican Gardens are divided into two areas (as can easily be seen from the top of the dome of St. Peter's) by the remains of the medieval walls which encircled the Vatican before the construction of the surviving 16th-century ramparts. On one side, in a north-north-west direction, is the park of the Villa Pia and the wood above it; on the other side, behind the apse of the Basilica, is the area that was set aside for agricultural cultivation until the foundation of the Vatican City State (1929) and later left green, although today much of it is built up owing to the requirements of this extremely small state.
A visit to the Vatican Gardens is highly recommend for those who want to see the lovely corners of the Vatican away from the usual crowds or for anyone who is particularly interested in horticulture as the gardens contain vegetation from many countries worldwide including Brasil, China, Japan and Australia. These exotic plants live in harmony with typical Italian plants and trees such as boxwood hedges, pines, cypresses, chestnuts and palms. This wide variety of plants makes for an eclectic collection of cultures and botanical specimen. The highly-manicured gardens are are embellished with many important sculptures, fountains and grottoes. Beautiful and unique views of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican City are offered from the Vatican Gardens.
More from Rome (Roma)