Vatican Gardens History

VISITS TO THE VATICAN GARDENS. The Vatican Gardens can be visited only through guided tours organized by the Guided Tours Office of the Vatican Museums. Tours depart from the Vatican Museums. Entrance to the Gardens is denied to persons not properly dressed.

For information:
telephone +39.06.69884676 (individuals) or +39.06.69883145 (groups). Bookings can be arranged by faxing +39.06.69885100



The Vatican Gardens can be described as a stroll through centuries of history. There is a strong history of horticulture, religion and politics to be seen in all their glory and spread throughout its green acres. In the bible the first man, Adam was created in a garden where water was a very precious commodity, especially to the desert people who told the story in later years. The garden was called Paradise or Eden relating to the Persian word for garden or park. The sound of water is refreshing to visitors to gardens as are the trees to shade you from the midday sun.

The Vatican Gardens are surrounded by high walls protecting the Holy See and can be seen highlighting times gone by when things were very different and bands of warring factions roamed Europe. It is also a very pleasant place for Popes to unwind and relax. There have been gardens on Vatican Hill since the days of the Roman Empire. This was because of the Tiber River being close by and the soil being very fertile. In Etruscan times the name Vatican came from the name of prophets or vaticinators. During the reign of Caesar Augustus Rome was surrounded by the gardens of wealthy merchants and aristocrats of their time.

Between the Dark Ages after the fall of Rome and up to the 5th Century which was known as the Middle Ages, the Vatican Gardens fell into disrepair. It was not until the 9th Century that Pope Leon built the Leonine Walls to defend St Peter’s Basilica against invading Saracens. In the 13th Century, during the reign of Nicholas lll the Pope adopted the Vatican as a permanent home and religious centre. This was when the original kitchen garden was created as well as an orchard and wood. This was essentially as a safeguard for food for the Vatican clergy.

Presently the gardens of the Vatican are cultivated by Carmelite Nuns each of who serve 5 years there. The Vatican Gardens also has a civilian team of gardeners who whilst also working in the gardens, maintain the structures of the fountains, terrazzo work and statues. Pope Nicholas lll added a physic garden for medicinal herbs which was the first botanical gardens in Italy. They grew sage, rue, southernwood, gourd, melon, wormwood, horehound, fennel, iris, lily, opium poppies, tansy catmint and roses.

In the present time the most striking feature of the Vatican Gardens is the mown lawn with tall trees for shade sourced and usually gifted to the Holy See by Catholics from abroad. In spring and summer the gardens break out into great splashes of color when the flowers bloom. At the Bell Tower entrance to the Vatican, Swiss Guards bearing halberds and wearing blue and yellow striped uniforms are responsible for security. These young men are recruited from the Swiss Army by the Vatican after completing their national service. It is said that their uniforms were designed by Michelangelo but this has never been proved. To the west of the Vatican Gardens is the flowering cemetery of the Teutons an tended by the German Sisters of Christian Charity. It was given in the 8th Century by the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne to honor German pilgrims who died in the journey over the Alps on route to the Holy See.

Horticulture of a special kind is at the front of the Governors Palace where the reigning Pope’s armorial badges are depicted by planting seeds of various plants to create a pattern of colorful leaves and flowers. This is a particular skill seen in Italian gardens as are box hedges and elaborate geometric parterre nearby.

The gardens of the Vatican reflect the history of gardens in general, from Teutonic Gardens to the Secret Garden which is highlighted with lemon trees in very large pots. There is also the Rose Garden and French Garden of Jasmine spread over a large area. These flowers are used for display in the Vatican Offices and public areas giving a refreshing and pleasant smell. There are also seed beds and forcing frames for propagation in this area. Here to sits the Chinese Pavilion given by the Catholics of China representing the Chinese values and architecture.

The whole character of the Vatican gardens is seen through the eyes of its creators and their view of nature. In the middle ages around 1558 Pope Pius lV commissioned the architect Piro Ligorio to build a water fountain in an area which was elaborately decorated with mosaics, terrazzo and stucco sculptures. A sculpture of the goddess Cybele is exhibited here looking over the fountain. There are numerous other fountains in the area which make great demands on the water supply. The water is extracted from the Vatican Hill which flows into aqueducts’ as well as coming from the Tiber River close by.

Public access to the Vatican Gardens is limited due to security requirements. Guided tours are available at certain times of the year for Pilgrims. Visitors can be forgiven for thinking they have gone back in time or into another world due to the quietness and the loss of noise and traffic in Rome outside the walls of the Holy See. The gardens glow with many flowers, beds of blossoms and oleanders all used for display in the Vatican itself. Pilgrims remark how similar the garden flowers are to those seen in Monet paintings. The love of flowers relates back to Tudor Times in English Gardens where the love of wild flowers in their natural setting was prominent. Michelangelo designed the dome of St Peter to be seen from the Vatican Gardens and it can also be seen through a keyhole some 3-4 kilometers away. There is also a section of the Berlin Wall in the Vatican Gardens testimony to the skills of the then Pope Paul ll’s efforts in reducing the tension during the Cold War era with the communists.

In the early years there were even wild animals and deer in the Vatican Gardens but alas today where are only wild birds. In 1929 a dispute was settled by the Lateran Treaties creating the sovereign state of Vatican which is the smallest state in the world today. The Vatican Gardens is tended by gardeners over seen by the Pope who is seen as the shepherd of souls who like Adam also a gardener, maintaining things green and growing in his care. The diligence with which the gardens are nurtured and cultivated bears testimony to God.

Seeds have been supplied throughout the world to many places for all occasions including the Gardens of Remembrance in New York as well as to the Royal Wedding in London of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge.