The Botanical Garden of Rome has been through multiple iterations over the years. After several moves, in the 19th century it reached its present home, in the royal-palace sized garden formerly attached to Cardinal Corsini’s 18th-century residence along the Via Lungara. Today, the garden is an oasis of nature at the foot of the Janiculum Hill.
The sixteenth-century Villa Riario, famous in the late 17th century as home to Queen Christina of Sweden, featured a palazzo, a garden, a forest, a small house atop the Janiculum, and access to considerable quantities of water. After Cardinal Neri Corsini and his brother Prince Bartolomeo purchased it in 1736, they commissioned architect Ferdinando Fuga to enlarge and embellish the property. Behind the palazzo, beyond the Corte d’onore, a “French-style” park extended as far as the top of the Janiculum Hill. It housed an open-air Teatro di verzura, with a Fountain of the Tritons at its centre, perfect for the plays put on by the Academy of the Quiriti, of which Cardinal Corsini was patron. The garden was dominated by a scenic cascading water feature. Purchased in 1883 by the Italian State, the complex comprises the palazzo, which hosts the historic Corsini Gallery and its display collection of priceless artworks, as well as the Accademia dei Lincei, its archives and the Corsiniana Library. Well-known botanist Pietro Romualdo Pirotta supervised the conversion of the gardens into the Botanical Garden for Rome’s “La Sapienza” University, enriching the original layout with major collections of plant species, many rare or endangered, along with trees of exceptional value, including varieties of palms, conifers and deciduous trees planted according to systematic and scenic criteria. The avenue of palms near the entrance is particularly spectacular, while the monumental Platanus orientalis specimens along the sides of the water feature testify to the garden’s centuries-long heritage.
The "catena d’acqua"
Enclosed between two flights of steps, once adorned with sculptures and flower vases to invite visitors to ascend the hill, the five successive tanks in the cascading water feature have eleven fountain sprays. The construction ends at the top in an exedra with a beautiful balustrade open towards the middle to direct visitors’ gaze towards a niche-nymphaeum, which today lies outside the boundary of the Corsini garden.
The Triton Fountain
As the centrepiece of his open-air theatre, Cardinal Corsini was keen to have a travertine fountain with a low poly-lobed basin, accompanied by the sculptures of two tritons, one young and one old, holding a fruit bowl from which water spurted. No trace of the theatre has survived. Carved in 1742 by stonemason Giuseppe Poddi, the fountain is today in rather poor condition; it does, however, evoke more illustrious baroque models.
Technologically-advanced for its day, French company Mathian built a glass and cast iron greenhouse in 1878 for the Botanical Garden when it was still located in Via Milano. A few years after its installation, to comply with the city’s new regulatory plan, the Garden had to transfer to the Corsini Gardens; the greenhouse was dismantled and reassembled in the new location.