The Orto Botanico di Palermo (Palermo Botanical Garden) is both a botanical garden and a research and educational institution forming part of, and managed by, the Department of Botany of the University of Palermo. The garden lies within the city of Palermo, at 10 metres above sea-level. It covers about 30 acres on top of red soil that has evolved on a calcareous tufaceous substratum.
The earliest beginnings of the gardens go back to 1779, when the Accademia dei Regi Studi created the chair of “Botany and medicinal properties”. They were allocated a modest plot of land to develop a small botanical garden dedicated to the cultivation of plants with medicinal benefits for the twin objectives of general learning and improving public health. This initial garden allotment soon proved insufficient for the purposes for which it was intended and in 1786 it was decided to move to the present site, right next to the Piano di Sant’Erasmo, best remembered for the unfortunate events that occurred during the Spanish Inquisition. In 1789 construction of the main part of the administrative buildings of the garden commenced in a neoclassical style. It is constructed with a central building, the Gymnasium, and two side buildings, the Tepidariumand the Calidarium, designed by the FrenchmanLéon Dufourny, who had also designed a part of the oldest section of garden, right next to the Gymnasium. It consists of a rectangular lay out, divided into 4 quadrangles, within which the species are categorised according to Carolus Linnaeus’ system of classification. The new garden was opened in 1795; in the ensuing years it was improved, with the Aquarium (1798), a great pool hosting numerous species of aquatic plants, and the serra Maria Carolina (or Maria Carolina glasshouse), completed in 1823. The huge Ficus macrophylla, which is a symbol and a well known attraction of the modern garden, was imported from Norfolk Island (Australia), in 1845. Today’s area, some 10 hectares, was reached in 1892, following successive extensions. In 1913 the Giardino coloniale (Colonial garden) was developed alongside the botanic gardens, but that no longer exists. The gardens have been managed by the Department of Botany since 1985.
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