Botanical garden of Naples
The Botanical Garden of Naples, also known as the Real Botanical Garden, is a structure dependent on the Federico II University, which is part of the Faculty of Mathematical, Physical and Natural Sciences.
This botanical garden has an extension of 12 hectares and is home to about 9,000 plant species and nearly 25,000 specimens.
It is located in Naples in Via Foria, near the Real Albergo dei Poveri.
The Botanical Garden of Naples was founded in the early nineteenth century, at the time of French domination; it was the latter who realized an idea previously conceived by Ferdinand IV of Bourbon and whose implementation had been prevented by the revolutionary uprisings of 1799.
The foundation of this garden was made by decree of 28 December 1807, with the signature of King Giuseppe Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon.
The realization of the Naples Botanical Garden project was entrusted to the architects de Fazio and Paoletti.
With a decree of 25 March 1810, Michele Tenore was appointed director of the Botanical Garden. He had completed his medical studies under Vincenzo Petagna, inheriting from his teacher the passion for botany, which he considered not a branch of medicine, but an independent science. It was precisely this conception of botany that led the Tenor to scientifically organize the garden in a completely new way compared to the previous simple gardens.
Among the numerous activities carried out in the Neapolitan Garden in this period we can mention scientific research, the cultivation of species of medicinal interest, teaching, planning of Bourbon Royal Sites and the collection, multiplication and diffusion of exotic plants. The latter were usually acclimatized in the “temperate stove” and in the “hot stove”, which from 1818 joined the former.
Michele Tenore was succeeded by Guglielmo Gasparrini. During his direction, from 1861 to 1866, some areas of the garden were rearranged such as the arboretum, the citrus grove and the “fruit grove”, which had fallen into a state of neglect during the last years of the tenor’s direction. In addition, a “Valletta” was created for the cultivation of alpine plants and a new heated greenhouse was built, replacing the previous one. Among other things, he also took care of the arrangement of the Botanical Museum and the arrangement of the herbarium which was enriched by the Tenor’s collections.
On the death of Gasparrini, Giuseppe Antonio Pasquale became interim director and in 1868 the management was entrusted to Vincenzo Cesati, who managed the garden until 1883, the year of his death. The main event that characterized the Garden in this period was the construction of a new heated greenhouse.
The management subsequently passed back to Giuseppe Antonio Pasquale, who held it until 1893. During this period, Pasquale managed to prevent the realization of a project that involved the construction of new university institutes in the area on which the Botanical Garden.
Federico Delpino succeeded Pasquale and remained in office until 1905. The major problem he faced was the very low sensitivity of the university authorities towards the Garden; this led to many problems of an economic and management nature which gave way to a slow decline of the structure.
Numerous changes occurred during the period in which Fridiano Cavara (1906-1929) was director. The latter enriched the collections and created an area for xerophytes and succulents, a pond and two tanks for the cultivation of lake plants. Cavara also had the temperate greenhouse restored and the construction of a new headquarters for the Institute began.
In any case, Cavara’s greatest merit was undoubtedly the establishment, in 1928, of the “Experimental Station for medicinal plants”, intended for the cultivation of medicinal plants and their experimentation. This structure, with its own funds, operated under the direct control of the management of the Garden, although it was not part of this structure from an institutional point of view.
This brings us to 1930 when the management passed to Biagio Longo, who continued the work begun by his predecessor. In 1936 the Institute was moved to its new location, whose construction, which lasted 18 years, finally came to an end. Previously, in 1933, a site was built for the offices and laboratory of the “Experimental station for medicinal plants”.
In this period of the Garden’s activity, the climax was reached in 1940 with the extraordinary meeting of the Italian Botanical Society, held on the occasion of the inauguration of the Mostra d’Oltremare.
Unfortunately, the advent of war activities had negative repercussions on the Botanical Garden of Naples. The iron structures were torn up to be destined for military use; large-scale crops of legumes, potatoes and wheat were introduced; several times the population invaded the garden to find refuge and water. The bombings also devastated the Garden, like the city, but the real destruction was done during the occupation of the allied troops. The new Institute, as well as part of the old one, was used as a barracks; the lawns were covered with cement or sterilized and used as parking for military vehicles; part of the garden was transformed into a sports field. In 1947, shortly after the end of his management, Longo published a report that testified to the state of total decay in which the structure was.
This situation was inherited by Giuseppe Catalano, who held the direction from 1948 to 1959. During this period the old Institute and the new one were partially restructured, partly by the Civil Engineers, partly thanks to extraordinary funds made available to the management. of the Garden. The iron gates were restored and the greenhouses were restored: in particular, an advanced body was added to the heated greenhouse complete with a large tank. The meadows were freed from the concrete pavements and enriched with tree species. The “valley”, in which alpine plants were gathered, was transformed into “filicetum”.
During his direction (1959-1963), Valerio Giacomini kept the situation left to him by Catalano substantially unchanged.
In 1963 the management was taken over by Aldo Merola. It should immediately be remembered that it was due to the tireless work of this scholar that the rebirth and renewal of the Botanical Garden of Naples took place. The premise for this rebirth was the achievement in 1967 of the administrative and economic autonomy of the structure, which among other things made it possible to obtain extraordinary funding, such as that of the C.N.R. with which, at the end of the 1960s, the construction of a 5000 m2 greenhouse complex was possible. In addition, a heating system was built in the temperate greenhouse and some small working greenhouses were built.
With the creation of a water distribution network, an interesting part of the garden, a major shortage was made up for: in fact, the water had previously been drawn from a well and conveyed to collection tanks from which it was drawn manually.
Merola took an interest in the botanical gardens also at the legislative level, managing, as far as possible, to sensitize the political power on the problems of these structures. The main result he obtained in this sense was the creation of the role of gardener of the botanical gardens, which led to an increase in specialized personnel.
The greater financial availability also allowed the purchase of some agricultural machinery with great advantage for the functionality of the work.
The only three accessible rooms of the Castle were used as the seat of the offices of the Garden, while the new building became the headquarters of the Institute of Botany.
In the early 1970s, the “Experimental Station for medicinal plants” was abolished, so the cultivation area, staff and facilities became an integral part of the garden.
The extremely impoverished collections were considerably increased through the purchase of plants in different parts of the world and, mainly, thanks to the collection in nature of plant specimens during botanical expeditions in which young Italian botanists and an illustrious botanophile, Prof. Luigi Califano. In particular, the collections of Cycadales, of species of the genus Tillandsia, of succulents and ferns were greatly enriched.
Merola re-established contacts with other European botanical gardens, favoring the exchange of plant material and scientific experiences and thus inserting the structure he directed into a wider scientific reality. Thus, the Garden began to free itself from the provincialism that had characterized it since the early twentieth century. Merola was also very careful in enhancing the educational role of the Garden, equipping all the plants with labels showing the taxonomic and distribution data of the individual species, creating new exhibition areas and reorganizing some pre-existing sectors. In the creation of new areas, in some cases a systematic criterion was followed, in others an ecological criterion. The Pinophyta area, the citrus grove, the pottery and the palm grove are examples of taxonomic areas, while the “desert”, the “peat bog”, the “beach” and the “roccaglia” represent ecological areas in which the reconstruction of natural environments was attempted.
On the death of Merola, which occurred in November 1980, the management was taken on ad interim by Giuseppe Caputo. In this period the city was hit by the disastrous earthquake that caused considerable damage to the Castle, as well as to the Garden, which was invaded for a few days by the population in search of refuge and even by armored vehicles that intervened for an emergency concerning the adjacent Hotel of the Poor. Released with the help of the public force, the Garden was equipped with an armed surveillance service, also to stem the continuous thefts perpetrated against the structure.
At the end of 1981 Paolo De Luca was appointed director. The repair of the damage caused by the earthquake was partly carried out with the funds allocated by the government for the reconstruction of the areas affected by the earthquake.
The Castle, which the earthquake had partially destroyed, has been totally restored. Thanks to the funds granted by the Superintendency of Monuments, the façade, more than 200 meters long, and the monumental greenhouse, currently dedicated to Aldo Merola, have also been restored. The complex of new greenhouses, already dedicated to Luigi Califano during Merola’s management, were equipped with heating and humidification systems, while the small work greenhouses were renovated. The changing rooms of the gardeners, in dilapidated condition, have been totally rebuilt and equipped with heating.
The water network has been completed, so that every area of the Garden is now reached by the water of the artesian well.
The mechanization of work, begun by Merola, continued with the purchase of many other agricultural vehicles. The collections were further enriched by purchased specimens and plants collected in nature.
Some areas, still not reclaimed by Merola, have been cleared of brambles and rearranged; the meadows of the Garden, which were in precarious conditions, were replanted and, moreover, a completely abandoned area of the sector was recovered for cultivation in the past hosting the Experimental Station for medicinal plants. In this area, now known as the “Experimental Section of Officinal Plants”, flowerbeds hosting plants of ethnobotanical interest have also been created.
The citrus grove, reduced to a few specimens from the old collection planted in the mid-nineteenth century, was enriched with many new species of the genus Citrus, some cultivars and representatives of other genera of Rutaceae similar to Citrus.
The “Mediterranean maquis”, a collection of the most representative plants of this plant association, has been added to the exhibition areas created by Merola.
At present, the area of the Botanical Garden of Naples is almost 12 hectares, on which there are about 9,000 species for a total of almost 25,000 specimens grouped in collections organized according to systematic, ecological and ethnobotanical criteria.
The activities currently carried out by the Garden concern, in addition to the cultivation and presentation of the collections for museological purposes and the carrying out of artistic and cultural events, mainly the research, teaching and conservation of rare or endangered species.
The research activity carried out in the Botanical Garden mainly concerns the study of the macro- and micromorphological characteristics of some groups such as the Cycadales and the Orchidaceae, the carrying out of ethnobotanical investigations in rural communities of central-southern Italy and the analysis of plant fossils from Campania geosites.
It should also be noted that the collections of the Botanical Garden represent a reservoir of plant material used for research purposes by the teachers of the Plant Biology Section of the Department of Biological Sciences.
Structures and Collections –
The exhibition areas are arranged according to three criteria. The systematic one, the ecological one and the ethnobotanical one.
The following areas are part of the area arranged according to the systematic criterion:
– the area of the Pinophyta;
– the filiceto, intended for the cultivation of ferns and similar plants;
– the palm grove;
– the area of the Magnoliophyta
– the citrus grove;
– and other small areas dedicated to single species.
According to the ecological criterion, we find the areas named:
– desert, an area intended to accommodate succulent plants;
– beach, where the most common plants are cultivated on Italian beaches;
– peat bog, in which the Cyperaceae are grown;
– roccaglia, intended for the display of species typical of the limestone areas of the Apennines;
– Mediterranean bush;
– in addition to the tanks for the cultivation of hydrophytes.
In the tropical greenhouse located next to the Merola greenhouse, a mangrove has been reproduced with specimens of the species Rhizophora mangle, Avicennia nitida, Laguncularia racemosa and Conocarpus erectus.
Finally, the ethnobotanical area is the experimental section of medicinal plants.