Secret Gardens of Bologna

Walking around Bologna you often catch glimpses of what’s hidden behind the high walls through doors briefly opened as people go in or out. You may catch a tantalizing glimpse of green or see a tree top above a wall.

Bologna garden
A garden glimpsed through a momentarily open doorway.

There’s a whole secret Bologna hidden behind walls. A few of these courtyards and gardens can be visited. The Conservatory of Music – Il Conservatorio Giovanni Battista Martini – is located in Via Benedetto XIV.

The courtyard of Bologna's Conservatory of Music
The courtyard of Bologna’s Conservatory of Music boasts several large magnolia trees.

It has a beautiful courtyard garden with magnolia trees and it can usually be visited during school hours.

A magnolia in the courtyard of Bologna's music conservatory.
A magnolia in the courtyard of Bologna’s music conservatory.

Continuing on a musical theme, the Music Museum at Strada Maggiore 34 is located in Palazzo Sanguinetti (see a previous post  Music and Bologna Part 1 for more detail). On the ground floor is an interesting little courtyard with a trompe-l’oeil perspective by Luigi Busatti and, of all things, banana trees.

The courtyard of Palazzo Sanguinetti Bologna.
The courtyard of Palazzo Sanguinetti, Bologna.

Whilst visiting the church of San Domenico to admire Michelangelo’s early works (see my post Michelangelo in Bologna ), you can also pass through the turnstile and the front right of the church to visit the cloister.

However, many of the private gardens of the city normally closed to visitors open their doors just once a year in an event called “Diverdeinverde”. You can find more details at this site. At the time of writing, the next event was scheduled for 17-19 May 2019.

Here is a selection of the gardens that will give you a feel for this hidden aspect of Bologna.

The garden of Casa Cuppini Colliva is located on Piazza San Giovanni on a little hill in the middle of Bologna that has long had spiritual significance. With the nearby Santo Stefano complex ( Santo Stefano – Bologna’s Mystical Past  ) representing Jerusalem, in medieval times the hill and church are thought to have represented the Mount of Olives.

The garden has an 8 metre deep well made from Istrian stone in Venetian style.

In Via Quadri, the garden of Casa Tortorelli features a large cypress tree and also palms probably dating from the period when Italy had African colonies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

bologna via quadri 1

It also features cloisters in medieval style.

Some gardens feature statuary, such as these belonging to Palazzo Bolognetti, which dates from the 16th century.

Many of these gardens are located in the south eastern part of the old city, or the top left of the map below dating from 1640.

The area was enclosed within the final set of city walls in the 13th century (see another post on this blog  The Walls of Bologna ) but remained wooded for many years after and even later retained a rural atmosphere. The map shows another green area at the bottom right but little remains of old Bologna here due to wartime bombing by the allies.

Map of Bologna in 1640 viewed from the  north by Johannes Blaeu
Map of Bologna in 1640 viewed from the north by Johannes Blaeu (Wikimedia)

Many of the street names refer to trees, for example Via Nosadella (thought to refer to the “Orniello” or Manna Ash) and Via Frassinago (Ash).

The gardens of Palazzo Masetti Zannini in Via Ca’ Selvatico are in this south eastern part of the city. A convent was built here in 1567 and the old cloister area has served as a refuge for deaf mutes and later was the site for vegetable gardens, a flower nursery and a bird sanctuary.

An arbour in rden of Palazzo Masetti Zannnini in Via Ca' Selvatica

An arbour in the garden of Palazzo Masetti Zannini in Via Ca’ Selvatico

Perhaps the most amazing of these gardens is the large open area known as the Orti di Orfeo or the Vegetable Gardens of Orpheus.

aerial view of the Orti di Orfeo, Bologna. (Google Earth)
An aerial view of the Orti di Orfeo, Bologna. (Google Earth)

These gardens were part of religious establishments from the 1600s until their suppression by Napoleon in 1810. The gardens then passed into private ownership and became part of the Poor Deaf and Dumb Institute of Bologna for over 100 years.

bologna orti orfeo
A scarecrow with peonies guards over an artichoke patch in the Orti di Orfeo, Bologna.

As well as vegetables, there are still various fruit trees including plum, pear, apricot, and cherry trees.

bologna orti orfeo 4.jpg
The Orti di Orfeo

Whilst these gardens are only open once a year, you may be lucky enough to be in Bologna to see them. Otherwise, keep your eyes out for those fascinating glimpses through doorways!

6 thoughts on “Secret Gardens of Bologna

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  1. Thank you Paul for posting these heavenly photos- particularly at this time. I think Italy is possibly the most beautiful country I have been to. Italy- her brave passionate people- have been very much in my thoughts during this terrible pandemic.
    Somehow I missed your blogs from bologna so I look forward to seeing them.
    I hope Cathy’s family and your friends are safe.
    Best wishes and thank you for this beauty.


    1. Hello Vicki I’ll still be posting from time to time as I have some photos in reserve to use ! Did you see my one on Elisabetta Sirani ? I had very few views which was a bit disappointing.


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