The Minerva Garden of Salerno, history of the first botanical garden between medicine and philosophy

by Echo of the Sirens

Located on the side of the Bonadies hill, in the heart of the historic center of Salerno, is one of the most evocative places in the city. It is the Garden of Minerva, theoldest botanical garden in Europe (that of Padua, dated 1545, and instead the university botanical garden oldest in the world). Facing east, it enjoys the right humidity and protection from the winds useful for the growth of multiple types of plants. Currently there are cultivated a multitude of species whose characteristics are identifiable through a convenient QR code system.

What we are going to tell you about is much more than just a garden.

Giardino della Minerva detail of the parterre with the fish pond at the bottom
Garden of the Minerva - parterre and fish pond at the bottom

From the foundation to today

The first garden was organized by Matteo Silvatico between the 13th and 14th centuries, in the properties that his family had bought the previous century. He was one of the most prominent doctors in the Salerno Medical School and was summoned to the court of Robert of Anjou how the king's personal physician. It was the same time when Boccaccio was in Naples and it is no coincidence that the tenth novella of the fourth day of the Decameron is dedicated to a Salerno surgeon.

In the seventeenth century it passed to Diego del Core and subsequent interventions quickly transformed it into a beautiful garden with a panoramic view of the gulf, gradually losing its scientific character. After World War II it was donated by Prof. Capasso, its last owner, atAsylum of Begging. Only at the end of the twentieth century were they presented redevelopment projects materialized only at the dawn of the new millennium.

Echo of the Sirens Tour

The first terrace of the Giardino della Minerva

The Minerva garden is spread over five terraces joined by the pergola staircase. On the lower floor, the garden of the simple: these are plants whose active ingredients were used to prepare medicaments. The organization is due to work by Matteo Silvatico, fine connoisseur of plant species as well as author of Pandette: a real extremely detailed catalog of simple vegetables.

Upon entering it is obvious one particular organization: four flower beds with plants distributed radially. In the central part and in the avenues you can read i names of the four elements (earth, water, air and fire) and related qualities (dry, humid, hot and cold). The question arises spontaneously: what do i have to do with four elements with the simple ones?

Garden of the minerva detail of the pergola staircase
Giardino della minerva - pergola staircase

Therapeutic doctrine

There therapeutic doctrine implemented by Salerno Medical School has its roots in that development in the sixth century. to. C. from Pythagoras of Samos. The universe is ruled by forces in precarious balance with each other and, consequently, the four elements that form it enjoy aprecarious harmony. They correspond to the four moods of which the human body is composed and which determine its temperament: phlegm, blood, yellow bile, black bile.

Moods and elements are characterized by quality: black bile is dry and cold, yellow bile is dry and hot, blood is hot and moist, phlegm is cold and wet. The prevalence of one mood over the other determines imbalance and therefore disease. According to therapeutic doctrine, to restore balance you need to use a medicine that acts on the mood that succumbs.

Matteo Silvatico arranged the simple ones in his garden following this theory: each plant is placed in correspondence with the element on which they had an effect. The doctor also took into account theintensity of this effect. In fact, the closer they are to the center, the simpler the accident and this is also evident in the central avenues in which the intensity is indicated with Roman numerals.

Garden of the minerva particular with flower beds and canals for irrigation
Minerva garden - flowerbeds with irrigation channels

The water in the Garden of Minerva

The whole structure develops vertically, by means of terraces that lie on the side of the hill. L'water supply it was guaranteed by Silvatico himself who financed a water structure for public use which at the same time fed his garden. With a system of small tanks and fountains present on various levels, the water is still distributed by gravity. Small channels dug in the rock walls and in the floors with a slight slope allow it to reach every corner of the garden.

The water it not only feeds vegetation, but determines one sweet music with his constant and delicate flow. Together with the panoramic view of the historic center and the gulf, the scent and colors, this music immerses the visitor in a suggestive atmosphere. The peace and serenity that you breathe is unique and we invite you to discover up close this Salerno jewel.

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