Italy: Urbi et Orti- The Botanical Garden of Rome

A luscious botanical garden smack in the center of Rome.

Why visit? 
If you're tired of city life maybe it's time to tend the garden.

Rome's Botanical Garden is surprisingly large, and surprisingly well-hidden. Yet here, between the Tiber and the Gianicolo, you will find more than 3000 plant species hidden on 12 hectares of luscious, wild greenery.

This veritable Garden of Eden is a great place to escape the crowds and noise of Rome's historical center and get your nature-fix in the middle of the crowded alleys of historical Rome.

At the northwestern tip of Trastevere, close to the river and not far from the Vatican. Map.

IT TOOK TWO years of living in the Eternal City, as well as an additional 20+ visits over the course of a decade, before Minor Sights finally made it down the Yellow Brick Road to Rome's Botanical Garden (It: Orto Botanico.) And that's not unusual: in spite of being a 5 minute stroll from various tourist attractions, 99% of visitors never discovers this great little garden.
Emperor Severus used to bathe here; Prince Corsini used to stroll here. 
Like most things in Rome, it's got an ancient pedigree: starting as the site of the thermal baths of Roman emperor Septimius Severus around 200AD, the area evolved into the Papal Veggie Patch (Popes need vitamins too) and later a Papal Botanical Garden, one of Europe's first.

However, it took Italian reunification, and the hostile take-over of the gardens of the adjacent Orsini Palace before the gardens reached their current shape and legal status. Now managed by the Biology Department of the University of Rome La Sapienza, the garden is open to anybody, regardless of Papal or noble connections.
Bonus points if you can tell us what this is (comment box below). We have no idea!
A word of warning: this is Rome, not Singapore. Those expecting a tidy, neatly manicured collection of well-labeled plants are bound to be disappointed. With typical Roman flair, it's a jumble of wild-growing plants, pot-holed paths and overgrown areas. All this presumable the result of a combination of ancient infrastructure, a fertile climate, and a chronic shortage of funds.

But hey, just like you didn't come to Rome to look for straight lines and modern architecture, the higgledy-piggledy nature of the Botanical Garden is very much part of its charm.
And because of its rambling nature, it's easy to get lost, and meander down paths offering a surprise around every corner.

There's a Japanese garden with tiny red maple leaves (in late autumn at least.) There's a bamboo forest that wouldn't be out of place in rural China. There are Mediterranean cacti and Himalayan cedars, greenhouses galore, and depending on the season, the multi-coloured hues of either flowers or dying leaves.

Hello Bamboo! 
A touch of Japan in central Rome
Occasionally you'll be treated with a glimpse of the Eternal City between the trees, looking splendid with its cupolas and turrets. And then there are the noisy green parakeets who, although they originate in the foothills of the Himalayas, seem have made themselves quite at home here.
Garden view. 

Getting there:
As usual in Rome, your best bet is walking. The Garden's entrance is reached through Via Corsini, off of Via della Lungara. You'll pass the massive Palazzo Corsini, a magnificent late-Baroque pile whose original extensive gardens were confiscated in the post-reunification Anschluss to create the current Orto Botanico.

(As an aside, Palazzo Corsini was the Roman residence of the infamous Christina, the slightly eccentric/bonkers Queen of Sweden, and the square in front of the Garden bears her name.)
Palazzo Corsini as seen from its erstwhile gardens. 
Entrance to the gardens was € 7.50 when Minor Sights visited- money well spent in our humble opinion. Closed on Sundays.

On the way to the garden you will pass another fantastic Minor Sight, the Villa Farnesina with Raphael's stunning frescoes. 

Useful links:
La Sapienza publishes a useful leaflet of the gardens which can be downloaded here. 


  1. This was one of my 'go to' places when I lived in Rome. If you just need to escape the noise and chaos of Modern Rome, this is an ideal place. Like many things in Rome, the garden is not maintained in the manner it really should be, but even so it's a wonderful place for a ramble.

    1. Thanks Paul, I think your observations are spot-on ;-)

      Any other of your 'go to' places you could share with us?

  2. Looks like Lipstick tree to me. Inside the pods are very red and staining seeds.

    1. Thanks! Could be! not 100% sure though as all the online images of this tree (aka achiote) have red fruits and when the fruits is still green it looks very different. Also, the leaves are much wider on the achiote... so still searching!


Post a Comment

Have you been here? Or are you planning to go? Either way, we would love to hear about it.