It will come as no great surprise to learn that Florence is simply marvellous, from top to bottom. However, in an era in which visual stimuli vie for our attention on every corner and we are constantly being bombarded with messages, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves of the obvious. If you’ve yet to experience this sensory delight, it’s time to pack your cases and let yourself be carried off by its magic.
Like all other cities, Florence has good points and bad points, but, whatever way you look at it, the city can be characterised as an enormous permanent exhibition of the best universal art. Patricia Schultz gives the cradle of the Renaissance a prominent section in her well-known book 1000 Places to See Before You Die, including a pertinent quote from Nobel laureate for literature Anatole France: “The god who made the hills of Florence was an artist. Oh, he was a jeweller, an engraver, a sculptor, a bronze-founder, and a painter; he was a Florentine.”
It goes without saying that the viewpoint at the top of Piazzale Michelangelo—crowned by a replica of David—appears in all the guidebooks as the traditional spot for taking in the city’s majestic countenance. The picture-perfect view that awaits at the top—worthy of Stendhal syndrome—merits the effort to climb the hill.
And that’s just where we’re heading. Or almost. Just slightly before reaching the summit—because, caught up in the midst of the frenzy of international tourism, or perhaps just in search of a memorable sunset—many visitors remain oblivious to the existence of the small oasis of peace that is to be found nearby. Welcome to the Rose Garden, which dates back to 1865 (although it was only opened to the public in 1895). The garden can be visited practically all year round and is located on Viale Giuseppe Poggi, in honour of the architect who designed it. Like in Edgar Allan Poe’s story The Purloined Letter, this beautiful and easily discovered surprise is often overlooked.
Moreover, the stunning rose garden is home to over 1,000 varieties and 400 different species of rose. Since 2011, it has also housed various sculptures by the Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon and a Japanese garden, two more reasons to seek out and enjoy the calm of this tiered hectare, with its vibrant colours and panoramic views.
“From here, you can take in a wonderful view of the Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio, surrounded by eye-catching works of art. However, what I enjoy most is the people: young people reading books and writing, artists painting watercolours of Florence, couples holding hands. It’s a fascinating place, full of inspiration for all sorts of activities,” remarks the travel blogger Sara Ciolini. Her view is shared by Francesco Bini, a photographer for Wikipedia, whom we tracked down when looking for information on the Internet about this enclave where time stands still:
“It’s a lovely garden that’s full of art. In addition to the flowers and Folon’s sculptures, it also offers great views of the city.” That’s a big draw for lots of people, as well as the fact that access is free. “I love it. It’s like breathing the spirit of Florence,” he concludes, showing that the spirit of Florence does not only reside on the Ponte Vecchio, the Basilica di Santa Croce or in the Piazza della Signoria.
If we pay attention to Folon, the creator of the sculptures in the Rose Garden, his work shows that the role of an artist is to contemplate life and transmit it with simplicity, which is perhaps the best way to approach this Florentine balcony. That’s right, put your mobile phone on silent and get ready to take in the atmosphere and yourself over to its enveloping calm.
As you escape from the hustle and bustle down below, breathe deeply as you look around and savour the experience, which, for everyone, is unique and non-transferrable. When all is said and done, in the words of the poet Fernando Pessoa: “Travel is the traveller. What we see isn’t what we see but what we are.”
The Instituto Europeo in Florence, which works to promote “the Italian language, art, music and culture to students from all over the world,” passionately recommends visiting the Giardino delle rose, which it describes as being one of the most beautiful in the city, set in lovely surroundings, making it a great place to spend the day. And who are we to disagree? They certainly know what they’re talking about. But, please, let’s not tell everyone about such a popular secret.
Cover by Francesco Bini – CC