The Botanical Garden of Padua, in Veneto, was founded as a medicinal resource by the University of Padua in 1545, and it was the first-ever university botanical garden existence.
“It is the origin of all the botanical gardens in the world, a cradle of science and scientific exchange, serving as the basis for the understanding of the relationship between nature and culture. It largely contributed to the progress of a number of modern scientific fields, the likes of which include, of course, botanicals, as well as medicine, chemistry, ecology and pharmaceuticals.”
With this justification, UNESCO added Padua’s Botanical Garden to its World Heritage List in 1997.
The Garden was realized as a center dedicated exclusively to the cultivation of plants that could be used as simple, natural cures; during the epoch they became principal therapeutic resources, as well as components in recipes for more complex remedies. Yet the former quality attributed to the first botanical gardens also acquired for them the label of Horti simplicium, or gardens of “simple plants.”
The Garden was founded after a resolution by the Senate of the Republic of Venice, with the objective of clearing up confusion over plant identification, specifically of those plants used for various therapies. In those days it was not unusual that errors – whether actual fraud or sincere mistake, intended or not – could lead to grave consequences for patients’ health. With the creation of the public botanical garden, interested parties could easily learn to recognize, with accuracy, the true name and appearance of each medicinal plant. After over 500 years of activity, Padua’s Botanical Garden is the evidence of a fecund exchange between cultures and diverse branches of scientific knowledge.
While still maintaing its original structure, the garden gained plenty of additions over the centuries, especially of plants deriving from every corner of the world. Today the species total has arrived at approximately 6,000. The garden features five different natural biomes where the relevant plants are cultivated: Mediterranean maquis, Alpine flora, fresh-water environments fed by a thermal spring, succulent plants, and a tropical green house for orchids.
Within its thematic collections, the Padua Botanical Garden counts carnivorous plants, medicinal plants, poisonous plants, plants from the Euganei Hills, rare plants and plants first introduced to Italy by way of the Garden itself. The Botanical Garden is an inspiring stop for the generally science-interested. Not only, but it is also an important expression of the splendid City of Padua's longstanding tradition of science, in which avant garde research, education and preservation of biodiversity are in line with the highest criteria in the world.
The oldest blueprint of the Padua Botanical Garden dates back to 1585. The design is in the form of a St. Peter’s Palm, also known as Goethe’s Palm - given that the German writer, on a visit to Padua in September 1786, was inspired to write his theory on plant metamorphosis after seeing the Garden.