Here it is. The first of a few posts about gardens I visited in Italy. I know I was there in May and it is now nearly August, but the summer has raced away while I wasn't looking. I also know that I said this would be the Summer of Awesome, and while there have been some beautiful moments, it has been far from awesome. I hope you are thriving and creating and enjoying as many moments as you can to their fullest. That is what I'm striving to do, and as I scan through these photos, I feel blessed to have visited such beautiful places.
I took all the shots in this post in Salerno, a city on the southern tip of the Amalfi Coast. It is just south of the tourist towns of Amalfi and Positano, and it has a distinctly local vibe. It's not touristy in the least--in fact, most of the people I met there didn't speak English--but it is very real, and I loved it for its architecture, its orange trees lining the Lungomare Trieste (seaside walkway), and its laid-back energy. Before I arrived in Italy, I had read about a very special garden in Salerno, high up in the hills over the city, so with map and cellphone in hand, I set off to find the hidden Giardino della Minerva.
|The mid-12th century tower of the Duomo in Salerno|
It's a bit of a treasure hunt to find the Garden of Minerva, so if you plan to visit, wear comfortable shoes. Located in the old section of the city, it is tucked into a residential area of alleys, stairways, and courtyards. There are signs for it once you reach the city's spectacular Duomo, which is well worth a visit. It houses the tomb of St. Matthew in its incredible, inlaid-marble crypt. I followed the signs to the garden, but got lost a few times anyway, which was a wonderful part of the adventure.
I loved so much of the graffiti I saw in Salerno. This was a favorite message I discovered as I climbed to the garden.
At one point, I took the wrong alley or stairway or tunnel, and I ended up above the gardens. There laid out before me was Salerno in all its terracotta-roofed glory, and beyond it the Mediterranean. If one is going to lose one's way, there are much worse places to do so.
When I discovered the stairway in the photo above, I knew I was close. Around the corner, I ran into a kind grandmother who gave me directions the rest of the way. Two more corners, and there I was at the entrance to the oldest orto botanico (botanical garden) in Europe.
The garden is a series of terraces tucked into the hillside, and all around it are apartments and other buildings, yet it feels quite secret.
During the middle ages, this was an herb garden for the medical school in Salerno. Students studied therapeutic methods here, and the gardens are laid out in a quadrant representing the four humors of Hippocratic medicine (black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood) which were thought to affect health and temperament. If the humors were in balance, then so was the body, thus the gardens themselves reflected this philosophy.
A stairway runs the length of the gardens, leading the visitor past terraces shaded by orange and lemon trees, and cooled by beautiful fountains. In addition to the fountains, a miniature aqueduct system flows throughout all the gardens, providing water for the plants, as well as an incredible sense of peace everywhere one goes.
There are many medicinal plants here, like the calendula below, with placards explaining their uses in Italian.
I'm not sure what impressed me more, the garden itself or its setting.
A couple of hours later, I set off on another adventure, wandering back down through the stairways of Salerno to find the Villa Communale (municipal park).
This park is by no means a standard green space with a few flower beds. The plantings are glorious, and it is extremely well kept. I found a bench in a shady corner and settled in to write for a couple of hours.
High up on the top of the hill overlooking the park is the Castello di Arechi II, 8th century Prince of Benevento.
As you might expect, I was completely in love with the flowers here, including the trellising of these gorgeous creamy-white roses at the bases of magnificent trees. The effect was a long line of graceful ladies in glamorous ball gowns.
My favorite thing about the park, though, was how many children were playing there. It's a magical place in a city that most tourists never visit, but that I loved. If you do visit Salerno, be sure to head for the Centro Storico, which is the old part of the city, and it's where the best shops and restaurants can be found. A long pedestrian street runs through its heart, making it easy to stroll and window shop. And always look up. There are gardens everywhere in this city: on rooftops and terraces and balconies--one treasure after another.
Next post I'll have gardens of Florence. It's hard to narrow down to just a few photos, but I will try. Mr. Magpie will be helping with that one, so who knows where we'll lead you?