Orto Botanico di Napoli

Research Centre of the University of Naples Federico II

Via Foria 223 - 80139 Napoli - Tel.:0812533937 - fax: 081295351 - email: robnap@unina.it

An Outline of the History

The Botanical Garden of Naples was founded at the beginning of the 19th century, at a time when this city was dominated by the French. They carried out a plan which had been originally conceived by Ferdinand IV of Bourbon  (later known as Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies), but was prevented from being accomplished by a revolution in 1799.The founding decree bears the date 28th December 1807 and the signature of  King Giuseppe Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother. With article 1 of this decree all lands owned in the area by the monks of Santa Maria della Pace and by the hospital of Cava were dispossessed. Both of these were adjacent to Palazzo Fuga  (also known as “Albergo dei poveri” – “Hospice for the Pauper”) and had been previously designated, during the Bourbon era, to become "The Royal Botanical Garden".


In the same article the purpose for the realization of this new structure was singled out and assigned to...."public instruction".... and to the ...."multiplication of beneficial species, to agriculture and to industry". We understand from this summons the modern elements on which the foundation of this garden was based and which have distinguished from the beginning its variety of functions and its diverse vegetal heritage. The realization of this project was entrusted to the architects  de Fazio and Paoletti. De Fazio was responsible for the monumental façade, with its style conformed to that of the adjacent Palazzo Fuga, for main drive perpendicular to the façade, for the drive perpendicular to the main drive which  brings to the Castle building (seat of the Botanical Institute) and for the “temperate heater” with its doric colonnade and shutters with revolving openers around central hinges. Paoletti was responsible for the planning and the realization of the lower part of the Garden.

Michele Tenore

By a decree on the 25th March 1810 Michele Tenore was nominated Director of The Botanical Garden. He had completed his studies under Vincenzo Petagna, inheriting from his teacher the passion for botany. He considered it to be not a branch of Medicine, but an autonomous science. It was this conception of botany that led Tenore to organize the Garden in a completely new scientific way, compared with the previous ”Physic Gardens”.

Portrait of Michele Tenore in the  Plant biology Library at the Botanical Garden of Naples

Michele Tenore remained the director until 1860 and during his 50 years of service  he increased the collections in the garden, taking the number of cultivated species to about 9,000. He busied himself in establishing relations with the principal European Botanic Institutions, thus making known and appreciated in other countries the place he directed.  Among the various activities carried out by the Botanical Garden of Naples during the time of Tenore, we must remember scientific research, cultivation of medicinal plants, teaching methods used, planning of Royal Bourbon sites and harvesting, multiplication and diffusion of exotic plants. These were usually acclimatized in the “temperate heaters” and in the “hot heaters” which  from 1818 were side by side.

Guglielmo Gasparrini

Guglielmo Gasparrini followed Michele Tenore as director. During his directorship of the Garden, from 1861 to 1866, he rearranged some areas which had fallen into a state of abandon during the latter years of Tenore’s directorship. These areas were the arboretum, the citrus groves and the orchards. Furthermore a  “small valley” was created for the cultivation of alpine plants and a new, heated greenhouse was built in substitution of the previous one. He was also engaged in the rearrangement of the Botanical Museum and in curating the herbarium which had been enlarged since the time of Tenore.

Giuseppe Antonio Pasquale

Upon the death of Gasparrini, Giuseppe Antonio Pasquale was nominated temporary director  and, in 1868, Vincenzo Cesati was given the directorship. He remained at the gardens until 1883, the   year of his death. The main event that characterized the garden during this period was the construction of a new, heated greenhouse. Subsequently the directorship passed again to Giuseppe Antonio Pasquale until the end of 1893.  During his time,  Pasquale was able to prevent the realization of a project  which would have seen the construction of new University buildings (not related to botanical teaching or research)  in the area where the Botanical Garden was located.

Federico Delpino

Federico Delpino was the successor of Pasquale and remained in office until 1905. The main problem he had to contend with was the poor sensitivity of University authorities towards the Botanical Garden, resulting in both economical and management problems, which led to a slow decline of the garden.

Fridiano Cavara

Numerous changes took place during the period in which Fridiano Cavara was nominated director (1906 -1929). He enlarged the collections and created an area for the xerophytes and the succulents, a small lake and two tanks for the cultivation of lacustrine plants. Cavara also restored the temperate greenhouse and started the construction of a new building as a seat for the Institute. Great credit must be given to Cavara for the establishment of a new centre called “Stazione Sperimentale delle Piante Officinali” (Experimental Facility for Medicinal Plants) in 1928. Here medicinal  plants were both cultivated and used for experimentation. This organization, which had independent funding, worked under the direct control of the Botanical Garden, even though it was not institutionally a part of the latter. 

Biagio Longo

In 1930, the directorship passed on to Biagio Longo, who continued the work started by his predecessor. In 1936 the Institute was transferred to the new building which had finally been completed after 18 years. Previously, in 1933, a director’s office was created for the ““Experimental Facility  for the Medicinal Plants”. The work done by the Garden in this period reached its culmination in 1940, with the extraordinary meeting of the Italian Botanic Society, held in correspondence to the opening of the “Overseas Exhibition” in Naples.
In the following years the war had a negative impact on the function of the Garden: all the iron structures were pulled apart and taken to be used for military purposes. Large scale cultivation of  legumes, potatoes and wheat was introduced and, on numerous occasions, citizens entered the Garden looking for refuge from bombing or for water. The bombardments devastated the Garden as much as the city, but the greatest havoc was caused by the occupation of the allied troupes. The new Institute, as well as part of the old one, were turned into barracks, the lawns were covered with concrete or insulating material and used as parking space for military vehicles; a part of the Garden was even transformed into a sports ground.