On 14 February 2023, the University of Padua Botanical Museum opens to the public: a journey to the origins of botany and medicine.
The Botanical Museum of the University of Padua shares the story of botany and its relationship with medicine through a rich heritage of herbariums, seeds and educational collections preserved over centuries through research and teaching activities once only intended for scholars. The eighteenth-century building of the Botanical Museum stood as the living quarters of the Prefect of the Garden until the mid-twentieth century. Over time, the building hosted the University of Padua students and teachers in its greenhouses as classrooms and laboratories. Opening its doors to visitors of the Botanical Garden for the first time, the Museum offers the opportunity to discover the history of the Garden, its plants and those who have collected them. Visitors can now enjoy a journey through the centuries that begins with its foundation when medicinal plants were cultivated and studied, up to the twentieth century when the study of plants also extended to their anatomy, physiology, environmental evolution, classification, and geographical distribution.
The Museum enhances the centuries-old history of Padua’s Botanical Garden. In its halls, nature, science, art and history offer dialogue suggestively and engagingly. Between past and present, the Museum shares the stories of the plants and of the people who have collected, studied, and taught others about their invaluable richness over the centuries, making Padua a crossroads of science and culture.
Conserving botanical collections dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries, among which the historical herbarium stands out, the Museum offers an extraordinary archive of plant biodiversity. Visitors can view over 800,000 specimens of dried plants, algae, mushrooms and lichens, and nearly 16,000 test tubes of nutritional, medicinal and ornamental species, a nineteenth-century didactic panel, mushroom models, and wood sections.
Curated by Scientific Director Elena Canadelli, the Museum covers over 500 square meters of space. Visitors begin their tour at the literal roots of the Garden with one of its oldest tree specimens, the chaste tree trunk (also known as Pepe dei monaci), which dates back to the mid-sixteenth century and end their visit with a viewing of the precious book volumes considered to be the foundation in the history of botany and medicine (such as the first editions of the works of Vesalio, Mattioli, Berengario da Carpi and Alpini).
Visiting the Museum
Access to the Museum is included in the entrance ticket to the Garden at no extra cost. Opening hours, prices and other details are available on The Botanical Garden website.
Walking upon the threshold of the Museum, visitors enter the Garden’s sancta sanctorum, where they learn about its protagonists and discover a deeper dialogue between horti sicci and horti vivi. Find out more about those who designed and built the ancient Garden during the height of the Italian Renaissance in 1545 and the Biodiversity Garden Greenhouses inaugurated in 2014.The rich archival and book heritage preserved on the first floor, found in the Vincenzo Pinali and Giovanni Marsili Historical Library of Medicine and Botany, is the result of the relocation of medicine and anatomy texts from the ancient “Vincenzo Pinali” medical library are now joined with the pre-existing collections of books and archives of the Biblioteca dell’Orto, highlighting the link between botany and medicine.
The visit unfolds in a circular route of about 100 meters starting from the entrance that mirrors the Renaissance Garden to the oldest preserved chaste tree. See the plants cultivated during the Garden’s first years, including an alleged remedy to reduce sexual desire. Thus we immerse ourselves in the history of the Garden up to 1786, when Goethe visited Padua. Discover the collection of herbariums found along the entire northern corridor of the building along with a dense network of exchanges of plants and seeds, which has been a centre for introducing and cultivating medicinal, nutritional and ornamental plants since its origins from various parts of the world. The Erbario assoluto installation, created by the multidisciplinary art studio fuse*, retraces the original specimens from the herbaria collections. Leaving the exsiccata, visitors become immersed in the botanical and anatomical illustrations that have made the history of botany and medicine in some of the most precious volumes of the “Vincenzo Pinali and Giovanni Marsili” historical library of medicine and botany.
The visit moves on to the late eighteenth-century apothecary, where the original equipment, preparations and drugs span at least three centuries of pharmaceutical and medical history, combined with sound and interactive experiences. Afterwards, visitors enter a late nineteenth-century classroom, learning to exercise their eyes, like the students of the past, on the didactic botanical collections of wall tables, seeds, mushrooms and wood of the most diverse shapes. In the spaces of the recently restored Botanical Theatre, you can watch the film, Goethe. La vita delle foglie, written and directed by Denis Brotto, where Goethe’s ideal return to Padua is told from today’s perspective, in 2023. Here, Goethe thinks back to his trip to Italy in 1786, and above all to the genesis of his famous essay the Metamorphosis of Plants published in 1790. Visitors can immerse themselves in interactive experiences such as that of Botany without frontiers where a map highlights the links of the Garden with the rest of the world through the stories of those who have entered into a relationship with this place or that of Una storia illustrata della botanica e della medicina that retraces the 12 stages of the history of medicine and western botany passed through Padua. Visitors are highly encouraged to guess the plants introduced in Italy and the botanists to whom entire kinds of plants are still dedicated today.
The Botanical Museum is made possible thanks to the support of Ministero dell’Università e della Ricerca, Camera di Commercio di Padova and Amici dell’Università di Padova, with Fondazione Cariparo as institutional partner and special thanks to Assindustria Venetocentro, Unox, Bios Line, Nar, Maschio Gaspardo, and Sit Group.