The Botanic Garden of Padua dates back to 1545 and is regarded as the most ancient university garden in the world. Beginning from its foundation, it was devoted to the growth of medicinal plants, since they made up the majority of the “simples”, i.e. the remedies directly obtained from nature without any further concoction: for this reason it was named “Hortus Simplicium”.
The Botanic Garden was steadily enriched with plants from all over the world, and especially from those countries connected either politically or commercially with the Republic of Venice. Accordingly, Padua’s garden has played an important role in both the introduction and the study of many exotic plants. This scientific institution has witnessed the evolution of Botany from its initial application of medicine to its many present branches. The establishment of a library, a herbarium and a number of laboratories gradually accompanied the garden’s development. Similarly to analogous university institutions all over the world, the Botanic Garden of Padua carries out intensive teaching as well as scientific research and is involved in the preservation of rare and endangered species.
The Botanic Garden of Padua has been included in the World Heritage List of UNESCO. Tradition has it that the Botanic Garden was planned by the Venetian nobleman Daniele Barbaro and carried out by the architect Andrea Moroni. To this purpose, suggestions were given by the Medieval Horti Conclusi (Enclosed Gardens) while its architectural peculiarity is marked by the perfection of the circle enclosing a square divided into four quadrant (quarti) by two alleys oriented according to the cardinal points. In each quadrant, plants were grown inside small and variously shaped beds, which formed a graceful geometrical pattern.
Until 1984 the oldest plant was a Vitex agnus-castus whose presence had been acknowledged since 1550. At present, a palm (Chamaerops humilis var. arborescens) planted in 1585 is the oldest plant in the garden. It is commonly known as the “Goethe palm” since, in 1786, the famous German writer drew, from a careful study of this palm, his intuitions about evolution, which were published in his essay about Metamorphosis of Plants; this palm grows in a glasshouse located inside the circular garden (Hortus Cinctus).