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Hamlets, districts and squares

Piazzale Donatello

A highly symbolic setting, home to the English Cemetery and the ‘della Gherardesca’ Garden

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In 1870 the architect Giuseppe Poggi built the boulevards of Florence, knocking down the city-walls. For this piazza he had in mind a scenographical arrangement, raising it up and surrounding it with cypresses, around which the road was collocated in the form of an oval. His intuition lead to the creation of a highly symbolic setting which went on to inspire the Romantic poets and painters, above all the German Arnold Bocklin who painted his probably most famous picture entitled ‘Island of the Dead’ drawing his inspiration precisely from this Florentine piazza. All the area of Piazza Donatello and its surroundings was densely populated with artists’ studios, and a real artistic quarter was thus created with all their ‘ateliers’.

Formerly the Florentine residence of the Princes Rospigliosi in the era of “Firenze Capitale” (1865-1870, when Florence was the capital of Italy for 5 years) and up to the early years of the twentieth century, it then became the property of the nuns of Nevers and subsequently the Villa Donatello Nursing Home in 1946 thanks to some ingenious and enterprising Florentine doctors. Enlarged and renovated several times, the Villa still today functions as a heath-care centre.

In 1827 the Swiss Reformed Evangelical Church purchased a plot of land outside the mediaeval city walls in order to realise an international and ecumenical cemetery. Carlo Reishammer, at the time a young student of architecture, designed first what was called the Cemetery of the English, built on a hillock. Giuseppe Poggi gave it its current oval form in 1865. In 1877 the cemetery was closed in conformity with the laws that prohibited burial within the city walls, insomuch as Piazzale Donatello had become part of the central area of town after the demolition of the walls. The non-Catholic community has since then used the Cimitero degli Allori in the area of Galuzzo.

The cemetery today boasts 1409 graves of merchants, artists, men of letters and others of 16 different nations, including E. Barrett Browning, Beatrice and Edward Claude, Shakespeare Clench, Giampietro Vieusseux. There are more English graves than of any other nationality considering that in the XIX century theirs was the most numerous community. The inscriptions on the graves are in different characters.

From descriptions and drawings of the Renaissance age it can be inferred that the garden had a classical design and belonged to the Guild of ‘Arte della Lana’ which sold it to the Della Gherardesca. In the eighteenth century, when work on the villa was finished, and English garden was built with pathways, shrubs, trees planted in groups without any form or design, a pond, a couple of hillocks and three small decorative and recreative buildings, a Kaffeehaus, a small Ionic temple and a tepidarium. The garden is famous also for its botanical rarities: still today a maple-tree of remarkable dimensions can be admired along with a sequoia and a gigantic ‘tuya’ or Mediterranean cedar, not to mention a splendid collection of azaleas. Following the destruction it suffered and neglect during the period of the war, the garden was magnificently restored to its original splendour by P. Porcinai.
An astonishing city of art, fashion and tradition
If you are visiting Tuscany you cannot miss Florence. The Renaissance city is a treasure trove of art with an astonishing contemporary vibe. Beyond the extraordinary artistic heritage, a testimony to its centuries of civilization, the best way to enjoy Florence is to stroll along the riverside avenues at sunset, or to get lost among the city’s myriad alleyways of the bohemian Oltrarno or the ...