Botanical Garden, Madama Palace

In the moat of Palazzo Madama a garden has been created which incorporates, in the organization of the spaces and in the choice of the essences, the indications provided by the fifteenth-century documents relating to the expenses and furnishings of the Castle. In the garden there are a hortus (vegetable garden), a viridarium (forest and orchard) and a iardinum domini (prince’s garden).

The Castle Garden in Palazzo Madama: how the project and the “background” that led to the birth of this garden in the heart of the city, a meeting and comparison point for citizens who will have the opportunity to learn about ancient fruits and vegetables, was born, spontaneous, officinal and period furnishings.

A garden of the prince (iardinum domini) with fountain, archivolted topia (pergola), lozenges, lozenges and blackberries; a grove (viridarium) with tall trees, small fruits, wild roses and shrubs, a pigsty and a falconara; a vegetable garden (hortus) with flower beds of vegetables, medicines and rows of vines and fruit trees. These are a part of the precious information present on ancient documents preserved in Palazzo Madama that tell a glimpse of the life of the then Castle of Turin between 1400 and 1500, a period in which the castle was inhabited by the Acaja and the Savoy.

The first information on the garden of the castle of Turin dates back to 1402 with the documents that record the expenses for the enlargement of the building during the government of Ludovico principe d’Acaia (1402-1418): the sources that mention the garden are the Counts of the Vicariate and Clavaria of Turin, the records in which the city clavario – who in the Middle Ages administered the city on behalf of the Achaian princes and then the Dukes of Savoy – noted the expenses incurred gradually for the maintenance of the castle and fortifications towns. The Accounts examined, now preserved in the State Archive of Turin (Reunited Sections), span a chronological arc from 1402 to 1516.

To recreate the garden, the indications contained in these medieval documents were followed, respecting the traditional subdivision of the space in hortus (vegetable garden), viridarium (forest and orchard) and iardinum domini (prince’s garden) as well as the presence of traditional furnishings (falconara, pigsty, hen enclosure).

In this space, in addition to the plants and plant species mentioned in the ancient maps, plants and herbs not specifically described in the sources, but certainly present in the medieval gardens between Italy and France, have also been included, based on the indications provided by the treaties of agriculture and medicinal plants of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Vegetable garden (hortus)
The Garden Organized according to a checkerboard pattern made up of rectangular flower beds, the garden is a particular space, frequented by the prince during his walks in the shade of the pear and apple trees, and by the castle gardeners, who took care of the plants necessary to regularly supply the kitchens with legumes, vegetables, herbs and medicinal herbs. The fence was used to prevent the entry of animals.

Forest and orchard (viridarium)
Il Bosco e Frutteto (viridarium) From the Latin “viridis” (green), it is a small wood with tall trees, often placed outside the walls of the castle, in an area where the pigsty, falconara, dovecote and mills. In Turin there was a lot of woodland and orchards, it was very large and fifty gardeners were also engaged at the same time. In addition to chestnuts, walnuts, willows, thorns, rowans, cherry trees, olive trees and palms – all mentioned in ancient documents – a part of this space was occupied by the prince’s vineyard, which produced wine for the canteen of the castle.

Prince’s garden (iardinum domini)
The Prince’s Garden Private area of princes, for reading, talking, resting and playing. In the Middle Ages it was located on the southern limit of the city, near the city walls and the Porta Fibellona; it was closed by walls lined with blackberry bushes, paved with stone and had a vine pergola. Its appearance must have been very similar to that handed down to us by tapestries and miniatures of the fifteenth century: surrounded by a thick “millefleurs” lawn, it had fixed fountains, rich in references to the courtly literature of the time, brick seats covered with grass and a series of majolica vases decorated with fragrant plants such as lavender, sage, marjoram. The princess of Achaia Bona di Savoia kept a parrot cage in this part of the garden.

Medieval garden
To design the garden it was essential to combine skills on various fronts: from botanical and agronomic to historical-artistic, from architectural and plant engineering to safety, from educational and popular to social. In front of over 1000 square meters of weeds, sometimes arid and sometimes too humid earth, brick walls everywhere, areas of complete shadow and others with the sun rising in the hottest hours; but also vents of the air conditioning system and at least fifty known and unknown manholes as well as constraints given by access to the garden, the path for the public and the large spaces provided for the reception and meeting of the groups.

A paved stone garden, with a topia for vines and roses and “certain alia edificia ac adornamenta”, perhaps small pavilions, “rooms” and grassy seats for reading, for play or for rest. Although small, the garden of the Castle of Turin appears as many gardens described in the sources of the early fifteenth century. In the following years (1418-1506) the documents testify to the presence of the garden of the Dukes of Savoy (Amedeo VIII) and are found more information on potted scented plants (mint and marjoram), “millefleurs” meadows (with cornflowers, scabiose, primroses, violets and daisies) and even a parrot cage.

Viridarium or grove are the largest areas, close to the brick walls that give onto the square but with a large development within the moat, so as to have an excellent east-south and east-north exposure. The documents speak of a green space- viridarium of a certain size outside the Roman walls of the city close to the current moat, perhaps for a certain period filled with water. Here was the “vinea” – vineyard – of the prince and the space was delimited by a thick thorny hedge of shrubs, there was also a rose garden and officinal plants. Among the expenses mentioned, many concern wooden poles to support fruit and tall trees, cultivated in rows (plum trees, black cherries, chestnuts, willows and even a palm and an olive tree are documented)

A falconara (with the falconer’s house attached), a fence for hens with chicken coops and a pigsty are mentioned. Tall trees, intertwined benches, the roof of the falconara, hedges and shrubs in a row.The reconstruction project has allowed to plant all the species mentioned, as well as the structures and furnishings.

The garden is delimited by “triglas”, wooden fences with a diamond pattern and inside there is a stone well with channels for irrigation. The part that is located entirely under the eastern facade of the castle, through a wooden platform, could reach an otherwise inaccessible area of the museum. The square or rectangular flower beds form a checkerboard and are slightly raised from the ground with willow, chestnut or brick curbs. The vegetable garden where many different plants are grown which enjoy sun exposure until late in the morning and then cool off with the shade of the walls in the afternoon.

Not many crops are mentioned in the vegetable garden of that time. There is only talk of buying leek and spinach plants. Most likely other vegetables and medicinal plants were already present or cultivated by the castle gardeners and therefore it was not necessary to report the purchase. The scarce information on the garden plants oriented the project on a “medieval botanical garden” where all the food, medicinal and useful species present at the time and fundamental in everyday life in the castle are cultivated in the flower beds.

The Garden lends itself to multiple socio-educational uses. It represents for Palazzo Madama a great opportunity for development and expansion of the museum offer, both for the itineraries and for the possibility of directing educational policies towards new issues related to the ecology of the city, the importance of green areas in the community life, their history and the problems of their protection today. The reconstruction of the medieval garden allows the approach to marginal plant species, recovering the sense and value of bio-diversity, favoring and promoting projects in collaboration with other city institutions.

The project was carried out in 2011 thanks to the significant contribution of 1 million and 100 thousand euros from the CRT Foundation in the context of the larger “Historic Gardens and Parks” project.

Madama Palace
Palazzo Madama and Casaforte degli Acaja is an architectural and historical complex located in the central Piazza Castello in Turin. Having played a leading role in its history from Roman times through to the present day, it was declared a World Heritage Site with the other Residences of the House of Savoy in 1997. Palazzo Madama, as part of the Savoy Residences serial site. The building houses the Civic Museum of Ancient Art.

It is a combination of two thousand years of Turin ‘s history, from the ancient eastern gate of the Roman colony of Julia Augusta Taurinorum to a defensive stronghold, then to a real castle, a symbol of Savoy power until at least the sixteenth century, when the current Royal Palace, as the seat of the Duke of Savoy.

The western part of the first medieval complex was later called Palazzo Madama because it was first inhabited by Madama Cristina of Bourbon-France, called the “first Royal Madama”, in the period around 1620 – 1663 , then fromMaria Giovanna Battista di Savoia-Nemours, called the “second Royal Madama”, in the period 1666 – 1724. It was for the latter that the current facade was designed, in 1716 – 1718 , by the court architect Filippo Juvarra.

The visit covers four floors, where the centuries-old story of its construction interacts with the collections of the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica, which have been here since 1934.

The early centuries of the Middle Ages are illustrated in the Mediaeval Stonework Collection on the moat level, with its sculptures, mosaics, and jewellery dating from the Later Antique period to the Romanesque. The fifteenth-century rooms on the ground floor contain paintings, sculptures, miniatures and precious objects from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, mainly from Piedmont. In the circular room in the Treasure Tower there is a selection of masterpieces, including the famous Portrait of a Man by Antonello da Messina. On the piano nobile, with its stunning array of Baroque stuccoes and frescoes, there is the modern picture gallery with works from the Savoy Collections and an important selection of furniture made by Piedmontese, Italian, and French master cabinetmakers. Lastly, the top floor houses the decorative arts collections, which are a key part of the museum’s assets, with majolica and porcelain, glasswork and ivories, fabrics and lace, jewellery and metals, as well as the stunning collection of gilded, painted and sgraffito glass, unrivalled in terms of its quantity and quality.