Padua’s Botanical Garden is a ‘hortus conclusus’, a “walled garden” in which, at night – to quote D’Annunzio’s lyrics – “in the darkness, sources reveal secrets / and rare stars gush out, one by one”.
The garden’s current structure – a square, inscribed within a circle – has remained essentially the same since its foundation in 1545. This is the oldest university garden in the world: a record due first and foremost to its unchanging position, in the historical part of the city, between the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua and the Abbey of Saint Justine.
Padua’s University was already famous back then, above all for its experiments in medical science and pharmacology. The gardens were created in order to recognize beyond doubt certain medicinal plants, which at the time were the object of numerous identification mistakes, not to mention frauds that often posed a danger for public health. Hence a great number of botanical species – approximately 1,800 – were introduced and cultivated in the garden since the beginning. And a circular wall, enclosing the property, was elevated to discourage constant nighttime thefts of its precious vegetable content.
Despite this pragmatic origin, a “walled garden” is traditionally considered a paradisiacal place. Its closure, indeed, opens onto the beauty of the universe.