Living in an Italian city makes one appreciate the importance of the outdoors and public spaces. Apart from the piazzas and the narrow paved streets that are always filled with people and happy noise, in many corners a beautiful and peaceful garden or a spacious park is to be discovered. But what were the circumstances that led to the creation of so many green areas in the urban grid?

In general terms, the origin of the squares and the parks in northern Italian cities are from medieval times. Piazzas were created for the public - simple, square and paved, without any trees or plants. In contrast, in important Renaissance cities, green spaces were mainly designed as gardens for the aristocracy, right outside their palaces and for their own personal use. Among the largest and most popular examples of these historic gardens is the Giardino di Boboli in Florence, personal gardens of the Medici family, that were given to public in the eighteenth century. It can be better described as an expansive, open air museum, as it contains sculpture ensembles of many different eras, and an entrance fee is required in order to access it.

The central fountain of Boboli gardens, Florence, Italy

In the modern era, as an answer to the demand for more green spaces, vital to every contemporary city, a new typology of parks has been created. These are spaces with a different use in the past, which are transformed to free gardens. As it would be hard to create such spacious places in the city centers today, these gardens are articulated around the city walls, taking the place of old castles and fortresses. In the interesting example of the city of Lucca, Tuscany, a park was created on the walls, offering a pleasant green promenade around the oval city. In Milan, the great park of the Castello Sforzesco hosts a number of civic museums, and is the biggest recreation area in the large city center. The Giardino della Fortezza in Florence takes another role, as it is the place of night-time entertainment for university students.

Castello Sforzesco, Milan, Italy


The park on the walls of Lucca, Italy

These examples are typical of how historic cities are trying to adjust to modern demands. Research shows that especially for cities situated in fertile lands like Tuscany, the quality of life is quite high. The percentage of urban green space, and the living standards seem higher when it comes to the smallest towns. However, Rome won the title of the European Capital of Green in 2007, proving that even in big cities, with adequate design and the right attitude from the public, an urban balance between modern infrastructure, historic monuments and green public spaces can be met.

The garden of Aventino hill in Rome, one of the many green spaces of the capital, Italy

In what other ways can urban greenery be introduced in dense historic cities?

Credits: Images by Marilena Mela. Data linked to sources.