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The Botanical Garden of the University of Naples

An Outline of the History

The Botanical Garden of Naples was founded at the beginning of the 19th century at a time when this Partenopean city was dominated by the French. They carried out a plan which had been originally conceived by Ferdinand IV of Borbone and was prevented from being accomplished by a revolution in 1799.The decree of the founding of this structure bears the date 28th December 1807 and the signature of King Giuseppe Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother. With article 1 of this decree all land owned in part by the monks of Santa Maria della Pace and by the hospital of Cava was dispossessed. Both of these were adjacent to the "Albergo dei poveri" and had been previously designated, during the Borboni era, to become "The Royal Botanical Garden" In the same article the purpose for the realization of this new structure was singled out and assigned to...."public instruction".... and to the ...."multiplication of beneficial species, to agriculture and to industry".
We can already deduce from this summons the modern elements on which the foundation of this Partenopean Garden was based and that has, from the beginning, been distinguished for its variety of functions and its diverse vegetal heritage.
The realization of this project was entrusted to the architects de Fazio and Paelotti. De Fazio was responsible for the monumental façade and its style conformed to that of the adjacent "Palazzo Fuga" (Known as Albergo dei Poveri). The main drive perpendicular to the façade, the drive orthogonal to the main drive which brings us to the Castle building (head office of the Institute) and the "temperate heater" characterized by a doric colonnade and shutters with revolving openers around central hinges. Paoletti was responsible for the planning and the realization of the lower part of the Garden.
By a decree on the 25th March 1810 Michele Tenore was nominated Director of The Botanical Garden. He had finished his studies under Vincenzo Petagna, inheriting from his teacher the passion for botany. He considered it to be not a part of the branch of medicine but an autonomous science. It was this conception of botany that led Tenore to scientifically organize the Garden in a completely new way compared with the previous Gardens of the simples.
Michele Tenore remained the director until 1860 and during his 50 years as director he amplified the collections in the garden, taking the number of cultivated species to about 9,000. He busied himself in establishing relations with the principal European Botanic Institutions, thus making known and appreciated in other countries the place he directed.
Among the various activities carried out by the Partenopean Garden during the time of Tenore we must remember the scientific research, the cultivation of medicinal plants, the teaching methods used, the planning of Royal Borboni sites and the harvesting, multiplication and diffusion of exotic plants. These were usually acclimatized in the "temperate heaters" and in the "hot heaters" which from 1818 were side by side.
Guglielmo Gasparrini followed Michele Tenore as director. During his directorship of the Garden from 1861 to 1866 he rearranged some areas which had fallen into a state of abandon during the latter years of Tenore's directorship. These areas were the arboretum, the citrus groves and the orchards. Furthermore a "small valley" was created for the cultivation of alpine plants and a new, heated greenhouse was built in substitution of the previous one. He was also engaged in the rearrangement of the Botanical Museum and putting into place the herbarium which had been enlarged since the time of Tenore.
Upon the death of Gasparrini, Giuseppe Antonio Pasquale was nominated temporary director and in 1868 Vincenzo Cesati was given the directorship. He remained at the gardens until 1883, the year of his death. The principal event that characterized the garden during this period was the construction of a new, heated greenhouse.
Subsequently the directorship passed again to Giuseppe Antonio Pasquale until the end of 1893. During his time Pasquale was able to prevent the realization of a project which would have seen the construction of new branches of University Institutions in the area where the Botanical Garden was situated.
Federico Delpino was the successor of Pasquale and remained in office until 1905. The main problem he had to contend with was the poor sensibility of University authorities towards the Botanical Garden resulting in both economical and management problems which led to a slow decline of the organization.
Numerous changes took place during this period when the director nominated was Fridiano Cavara (1906 -1929). He enlarged the collections and created an area for the xerophyte and the succulents, a small lake and two tanks for the cultivation of lacustrine plants. Cavara also restored the temperate greenhouse and started the construction of a new head office for the institute.
The most credit given for work carried out by Cavara was without doubt the establishment a new center called "Sezione Sperimentale delle Piante Officinali" in 1928. Here medicinal plants were both cultivated and used for experimentation. This organization which had its own funding , worked under the direct control of the Botanical Garden, even though it was not institutionally a part of this organization.
In 1930 the directorship passed on to Biagio Longo who continued the work started by his predecessor. In 1936 the Institute was transferred to the new head office which had finally been completed after 18 years. Previously, in 1933 a head office was created for the offices and laboratory of "The experimental station for the officinal plants". The work done by the Garden in this period reached its culmination in 1940 with the extraordinary reunion of the Italian Botanic Society, held in honour of the opening of the "Overseas Exhibition".
In the following years the war had a negative impact on the function of the Garden and all the iron structures were pulled apart and taken to be used for military purposes. The large scale cultivation of legume, potatoes and wheat was introduced and on numerous occasions people invaded the Garden looking for refuge and water. The bombardments devastated the Garden as much as the city but the most havoc was created during the occupation of the allied troupes. The new institute as well as part of the old one was turned into barracks, the lawns were covered with cement or insulated and used for parking military vehicles and a part of the Garden was made into a sports ground. In 1947 not long before his directorship ended, Longo published a report which testified that the Garden was on its way to total ruin.
This situation was inherited by Giuseppe Catalano who held the directorship from 1948 to 1959. During this period the old and new institutions were partially reconstructed. This was partly due both to the surveyor's department and to exceptional funds made available by the direction of the Garden. Iron gates were re-introduced and the greenhouses were restored: in particular the heated greenhouse, where a new part was added equipped with a big tank. The lawns were liberated of their cement covering and made rich with arboreous essences. The small valley where the alpine plants were located was transformed into a "fernery". During his direction (1959-1963) Valerio Giacomini managed to maintain unchanged the situation inherited from Catalano.
In 1963 the directorship was given to Aldo Merola and it was due to the indefatigability of this man that the rebirth and renewal of the Botanical Garden in Naples came about. It started when both the administrative and economic independence of the structure was reached in 1967. This led to extra financing for example the C.N.R. which made possible the building of a greenhouse complex of 5000m2 towards the end of the 1960's. Besides this the installation of heating in the temperate greenhouse and various small working greenhouses. With the laying of waterpipes throughout the Garden water was never in shortage, in fact up until then water was drawn from a well and conveyed to collection tanks to be drawn manually. Merola was also concerned with legislation, being able when possible to sensitize political power to the problems regarding the Garden. The main result obtained by him in this sense was the creation of the gardener's role in the Botanic Garden that resulted in an increase of specialized staff. Higher liquid assets made it possible to buy agricultural machinery which led to big advantages in the work carried out. The only three usable rooms left in the castle were converted and became the head office for the Botanical Garden while the new building became the head office of The Institute of Botany. At the beginning of the 1970's the Stazione Sperimentale delle Piante Medicinali was abolished and the cultivation area, the staff and the buildings became an integral part of the Garden. The collection that had been extremely diminished started to increase notably due to the acquisition of plants from various parts of the world and principally thanks to the expeditions conducted by young Italian botanists who collected various exemplary vegetal species. Amongst these was the renowned botanist Prof. Luigi Califano. The collection of Cycadales was particularly enlarged by the addition of samples of the species Tillandsia, succulents and ferns. Merola renewed contacts with other European Botanical Gardens facilitating the exchange of vegetal material and scientific experience thus enabling the structure he directed to become part of a more ample scientific reality. Consequently the Garden started to liberate itself from the provincialism which had characterized it since the beginning of the 20th century. Merola was also careful to strengthen the didactic aspect of the Botanical Garden by labelling each plant with both its taxonomic information and the classification of each single species. He created new display areas and re-organized some of the existing ones. In the making of the new areas he followed both systematic and ecological ideas. The area of the Pinophyta, the citrus grove, the vaseria and the palm grove represent areas of taxonomic characteristics whereas the desert, the peat bog, the beach, and the rockery represent areas with ecological characteristics in which he attempted to create the natural environment.
Upon the death of Merola in November 1980, the directorship was given to Giuseppe Caputo. At the time the city was struck by a disastrous earthquake which did considerable damage to the castle and to the garden. During the next few days the Garden was continually invaded by people seeking refuge and armoured vehicles had to be brought in to deal with an emergency in the adjacent "Palazzo Fuga". Liberated with the help of a public force the Garden was provided with an armed surveillance service to stem the continual break-ins which caused damage to the property.
At the end of 1981 Paolo De Luca was nominated director. The repair of damage caused by the earthquake was in part financed by government funds for the reconstruction of areas hit by the earthquake. The castle which the earthquake had partially destroyed was totally restored. Thanks to funds granted by the Sopraintendenza ai Beni Culturali, the front , more than 200 metres long and the monumental greenhouse, dedicated to the memory of Aldo Merola, were both restored. The new greenhouse complex dedicated to the memory of Luigi Califano during Merola's directorship was equipped with a new heating and humidification system whilst the small working greenhouses were reconstructed. The gardener's changing rooms were crumbling and therefore were totally rebuilt and heating was installed. The waterpipe network was completed resulting in every area of the Garden being supplied by water from the Artesian Well. The mechanization started by Merola was continued with the acquisition of lots more agricultural vehicles. The collections were enriched even further by the purchase of exemplary plants and plants collected from their natural habitat. Some areas, which had not yet been granted allowances by Merola, were freed from brambles and rearranged. The lawns which were in a precarious condition were replanted. Furthermore an abbandoned area which was previously the Stazione Sperimentale was recovered for the cultivation of medicinal plants. In this area, today denominated as the Sezione Sperimentale delle Piante Officinali, flowerbeds have been created with plants of ethnobotanic interest. The citrus grove reduced to a few exemplary plants from the old collection planted about the middle of the 19th century was enriched with lots of new species of the citrus family some representing other types of Rutaceae similar to citrus. In the exhibition areas created by Merola the "Mediterranean Bush" has been added and it is a collection of the most representative in this vegetal association. The actual surface area of the Botanical Garden of Naples is nearly 12 hectares in which 9,000 species are present and a total of almost 25,000 samples grouped together according to their systematic, ecological and ethnobotanic criteria. The areas where the plants are systematically set out are the fernery, the pinophyta, the palmgrove, the citrus grove, the magnoliophyta and small zones dedicated to single taxon of plants and flowers. The zones where plants are set out in accordance to their ecological criteria are the desert, the beach, the peat-bog, the rockery, the Mediterranean bush and the tanks for acquatic plants. The ethnobotanic area is represented by the Sezione Sperimentale delle Piante Officinali. Adjacent to the exhibiting section of this zone there are small areas of recent formation , one is the "pathway for the blind" and the other dedicated to the principal plants cited in the Bible. The arboreous grove, the collection of bulbous, tuberous and rhizomatous and the nursery are areas that do not follow any of the above criteria.


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