Botanical Garden Museum of the University of Padua opens to the public.

The Botanical Garden Museum of the University of Padua opens to the public on Monday, Feb. 13, telling the story of botany and its relationship with medicine, as well as the history of the Garden founded in 1545.

On Feb. 13, the Botanical Garden Museum of the University of Padua opens to the public: a 500-square-meter itinerary that has been curated by scientific director Elena Canadelli. The museum aims to tell the story of botany and its relationship with medicine, through the rich heritage of herbaria, seeds and educational collections preserved over centuries of research and teaching activities. Beginning with one of the oldest tree specimens in the Garden, the agnocaste trunk (also known as the “Monks’ Pepper”), dating back to the mid-sixteenth century, the tour concludes with the precious heritage of volumes that have made the history of botany and medicine.

It is housed in a building of eighteenth-century layout that has hosted students and faculty of the University of Padua in greenhouses, classrooms and laboratories and now opens its doors for the first time to visitors to the Botanical Garden. Those who visit the Museum have the opportunity to discover the history of the Garden, its plants and those who collected them, in a journey through the centuries that begins from its foundation, when medicinal plants were grown and studied there, and reaches the twentieth century, when the study of plants was also extended to anatomy, physiology and evolution in their environment, their classification and geographical distribution.

The botanical collections preserved in the Museum date mainly from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and among them the historical herbarium stands out: an extraordinary archive of plant biodiversity that has about 800 thousand specimens of dried plants, algae, fungi and lichens, 16 thousand test tubes with seeds of food, medicinal and ornamental species, the nineteenth-century teaching tables, models of fungi and sections of woods.

The visit unfolds in a circuitous route starting from the entrance that mirrors the Renaissance Garden, where the oldest preserved trunk, that of the chasteberry, among the plants cultivated in the early years of the Garden and known since antiquity as a supposed remedy to diminish sexual desire, finds its place. We thus plunge into the milestones of the Garden’s history, starting from its founding in 1545 to 1786, the year Goethe visited it and was fascinated by it during his trip to Italy. This is followed by the herbarium collection, which occupies the entire northern corridor of the building and recounts the dense network of plant and seed exchanges of the Garden, since its origins an important center for the introduction and cultivation of medicinal, food and ornamental plants from various parts of the world: this history is announced by the installation Absolute Herbarium, created by the multidisciplinary art studio fuse* and retraced through some original specimens from the herbarium collections. In the final part of the gallery, one leaves the exsiccata to immerse oneself in the botanical and anatomical illustrations that made the history of botany and medicine in some of the most precious volumes of the Historical Library of Medicine and Botany “Vincenzo Pinali and Giovanni Marsili.”

The tour continues in a late 18th-century apothecary shop, where original instrumentation, preparations and medicines spanning at least three centuries of pharmaceutical and medical history are combined with sound and interactive experiences. This is followed by immersion in a late 19th-century classroom, learning to exercise the eye, like students of the past, on educational botanical collections of wall plates, seeds, fungi and woods of the most diverse forms. In the spaces of the recently restored Botanical Theater, one can attend a screening of the film Goethe. The Life of Leaves, written and directed by Denis Brotto, where Goethe’s ideal return to Padua today, in 2023, is recounted: an opportunity to think back to his trip to Italy in 1786, and especially to the genesis of his famous essay The Metamorphosis of Plants, published in 1790. In the following rooms we are immersed in interactive experiences such as Botany without Borders, in which a map highlights the links of theBotanical Garden with the rest of the world through the stories of the personalities who came into contact with this place, or that of An Illustrated History of Botany and Medicine, in which the history of Western medicine and botany is retraced in twelve stages, which also include Padua, or the final game that concludes the visit and spurs one to guess the plants first introduced to Italy and the Paduan botanists to whom entire genera of plants are still dedicated.

“The Botanical Museum is one of the splendid permanent legacies that our University offers, on the occasion of its eight hundredth anniversary, to the territory. Its inauguration on February 13,” says the magnificent rector Daniela Mapelli, “will close a rich, exciting and intense year of initiatives aimed not only at the university community, but at the entire citizenry. The Museum complements and strengthens the cultural and scientific offerings of the University, also in view of the opening of the Museum of Nature and Man. The Garden founded in 1545 thus continues to be a place of exchange and knowledge, open to the world.”

“The Museum enhances the secular history of the Garden. In its halls nature, science, art and history dialogue in an evocative and engaging way. Between past and present, the path tells the stories of plants and the people who have collected, studied and taught them over the centuries, making Padua a crossroads of science and culture,” stressed Elena Canadelli, scientific director of the Botanical Museum, historian of science and president of the Italian Society for the History of Science. “Today the Botanical Garden has an important new actor, who supports and strengthens the activities of the UNESCO site on several levels, from historical and botanical research to education and the possibility for visitors to learn about the history of the Garden and its collections. The result we have arrived at demonstrates the importance and strength of working in synergy, thanks to an integrated heritage enhancement.”

The Botanical Museum is made possible thanks to the support of the Ministry of University and Research, the Padua Chamber of Commerce and the Friends of the University of Padua, with Fondazione Cariparo as an institutional partner. Also contributing: Assindustria Venetocentro, Unox, Bios Line, Nar, Maschio Gaspardo, Sit Group.

The opening will be held at 3 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 13, with entrance from Via Orto Botanico 15.

Access to the museum is included in the tour route and in the entrance ticket to the Garden, which keeps costs unchanged. Hours, prices and how to visit or make reservations are available at the Botanical Garden website.

Pictured is the Old Garden, museum side.

Botanical Garden Museum of the University of Padua opens to the public.
Botanical Garden Museum of the University of Padua opens to the public.

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