It was in Palermo’s Botanical Garden – currently the location of the local University’s Botanical Sciences department – that Goethe imagined the ‘Urpflanze’, the archetypal plant that he thought was the origin of all the different species in the vegetable kingdom. Perhaps it was the Neoclassical beauty of the surroundings that inspired the German poet, who defined beauty as “a manifestation of secret natural laws, which otherwise would have been hidden from us forever”.
Inaugurated in 1795, the Botanical Garden features a central Gymnasium flanked by two buildings, the Tepidarium and the Calidarium, all of which were designed by French architect and intellectual Léon Dufourny. Strongly influenced by the culture of Enlightenment, Dufourny introduced Neoclassical taste in the very Baroque Sicily.
Amongst statues, sphinxes, hermae, caryatides, exedras, geometrical decorations, Doric columns and porticoes, in a landscape of elegant chromatic sobriety, 12,000 plant species live here. Including a giant “Ficus magnolioide”, the garden’ emblem. And all the aquatic plant species living in the Aquarium, a circular basin that is divided into 24 sections.
A visit is the best way to understand why Goethe loved this place so much.