Florence’s largest green space: the Parco delle Cascine, Part 1

Today I am giving you the history of this, the largest green space within the city of Florence. Tomorrow I will show you my recent pictures. I’m spending a lot of time in this park during Covid lockdowns.

The Parco delle Cascine (Cascine Park) is a monumental and historical park in the city of Florence. The park covers an area of 160 hectares (395 acres). It has the shape of a long and narrow stripe, on the north bank of the Arno river. It extends from the centre of Florence until the point where the Mugnone Torrente flows into the Arno.

The building of the Park began in 1563, under the rule of Cosimo I de’ Medici, as a farming and hunting estate of the Medici family, ruling the city of Florence since 1434. The very name of the Park derives from the ancient Italian word “cascio,” meaning bovine livestock, mainly intended for the production of butter and cheese. Rare and exotic plants were chosen for the park, for scientific as well as aesthetic reasons.

In the 18th century, when the Grand Duchy transferred to the Habsburg-Lorraines, the park gradually acquired a recreative function in the urban system, from which the current public park descends. However, until the beginning of the 19th century, the park remained usually closed to the public, with the exception of some particular events.

The Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo commissioned from the architect Giuseppe Manetti, the design construction of a model farming estate, centered around the Palazzina Reale delle Cascine (small casino-palace now housing the Agronomy faculty of the University of Florence) in 1786. Other structures added were the Abbeveratoio del Quercione fountain, the pyramid-shaped ice-house, the amphitheatre and two neoclassical Pavoniere (originally ornamental peacock cages). Along a symbolic path a series of furnishings and architectural structures was positioned, among which is the royal Palazzina, the Quercione drinking trough, the Found of Boccacce, the pyramid which was used as an ice-house (nowadays it is used to store the gardeners’ tools) and two ‘pavoniere’, originally called ‘faganiere’, a type of Neoclassical temple made up of two bird cages, for peacocks.

Among the fountains was the Narcisus Fountain, from which the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley is said to have drawn inspiration writing the Ode to the West Wind, in 1820. Giuseppe Manetti was also responsible for organizing celebrations and receptions in the park, such as the ceremony to celebrate the arrival of Ferdinand III of Tuscany, in July 1791.

In 1809-1811, the new Grand Duchess, Elisa Bonaparte, converted the farm into a public park. The park was acquired by the Municipality of Florence in 1869; architect Felice Francolini was hired to renovate the park. Sport clubs regularly competed in the Quercione meadow, including the Florence Football Club, Itala Foot Ball Club, Juventus Foot-Ball Club, Firenze FBC, Club Sportivo Firenze and PGF Libertas. However, in 1917 the municipality forbade any sport club to play football in the park.

The last relevant monument built in the Cascine Park was the Monumento all’Indiano, a monument by the English sculptor Fuller, in honor of the young Indian (Maratha) prince, His Highness Rajaram II, Maharaja of Kolhapur, who suddenly died while visiting Florence in 1865. In the latter 19th century, architect Giuseppe Poggi had the idea of the large square of access to the park now known as Piazzale Vittorio Veneto.

The amphitheatre was named in March 2015 after a well-known son of Florence, Ernesto de Pascale, music journalist and blues-rock musician who died 2011.

The beautiful green grounds of the Cascine include a number of meadows, sometimes edged by wooded areas, with the names of Tinaia, del Quercione, delle Cornacchie. Other smaller meadows are situated within gardens or squares. Wooded areas cover more than 35 hectares and there are about 19,000 trees in the park.

Centuries-old English oaks, elms, maples and ashes are slowly being replaced by spontaneous vegetation, represented by acacias, trees of heaven, elders, ivy, pines and nettle trees. A botanic arboretum is situated in the garden of the Scuola di Guerra Aerea (School of Air War).

The strength and luxuriance of plants show the rich soil and the presence of a ample good water reserve, right next to the Arno river bed. Long hedges, selected to resist to dryness and to shady positions, are present everywhere in the park (their overall length is about 30 km).

The central part of the park is characterised by a monumental complex, situated in Piazzale delle Cascine, dominated by the Palazzina Reale, and its bordering areas, including Piazzale Kennedy with its circular fountain.

In the Piazza Vittorio Veneto, stands the Vittorio Emanuele II bronze equestrian statue which was formerly situated in the center of Florence in the Piazza della Repubblica. The statue was moved in this position in 1932. The square, along with the bordering Giardino della Catena, is decorated with impressive trees (pines, plane trees, Ginkgo Biloba, oaks, horse cheastnuts and cedars). This variety of species gives the park a lot of autumn color, typical of Italian style gardens.

The park hosts a number of civil and sport infrastructures, such as tennis and football fields, a velodrome, shooting and archery fields, two hippodromes, a public swimming pool, the School of Air War, a visiting centre, police offices, the Faculty of Agronomy and a public school.

Since 2010 the Line T1 of the tramway of Florence has a stop in the park, in Viale degli Olmi, which improves accessibility in the area for visitors arriving from the city center or from Scandicci.

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