Friday, 2 December 2011

The Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra.

My new post is about the place where I'm going to do my internship, for my master degree thesis. This place is the Botanical Garden of the University of Coimbra, one of the oldest and most beautiful botanical gardens in Europe, known worldwide for its extraordinary biodiversity, beautiful scenery and historical architecture.

 This place was created during the Pomabline reform of the university and reflects the enlightened spirit of the XVIII century: It's purpose was to create a place for experimental studies on natural history and medicine.
The Marquis of Pombal ordered the director of the University to find an "appropriate place in the neighbourhood of the University", called the Ursulinas Valley.
A location  was soon found at the farm of the Benedictine College wich would later become the Hortus Botanicus. 

A first proposal was presented, probably by Elsden which it was an extraordinary masterpiece. But the project was considered "extravagant and an example of ostentation" and it was rejected by Pombal whose goal was a "boys study garden". This garden would include "only the number of medicinal herbs considered as indispensable for botany exercises".
A new sketch was submitted, probably by the Italian Guilio Mattiazzi, the first gardener of the Botanical Garden.
Although simpler than the first, the two blueprints were similar: a design of a circle of flowerbeds, around the central square, divided into four beds, with fountains and sculptures, terraces, staircases and iron railings according to the Italian design of the Botanical Garden of Padua. In January of 1774 the University became the of the garden.

The work began without delay and was, supervised by the great naturalist and resercher Domenico Vandelli.
The first plants came from the Royal Garden of Ajuda, in Lisbon. And a little later, new and unique species arrived from other continents. Many of them were sent by another naturalist, Alexandre Rodrigues Ferreira, who was collecting plants and species from Brazil, during his "Philosophical Journey to Amazonia". 
A small greenhouse was built in 1776, and another larger one in 1785.
In 1791, Felix Avelar Brotero replaced Vandelli as the scientific director of the garden, and created the Systematic Schools where a diverse collection of the native Portuguese and exotic plants could be observed and studied by the students. Species from all over the world were cultivated in the greenhouses and terraces in the garden. It was taking roots.

Visiting this place can be like traveling around the globe - the collections of plants that fill every corner can transport us to different latitudes and regions. In the Central Square, the oldest part of the garden, we can find trees dating from the foundation of the garden, namely Erythrina crista-galli, whose leaves have a substance -  the eritrina - with similar action to the poison curare. Native South Americans had a habit of putting leaves of this plant on the tips of their hunting arrows.
There are many trees of exceptional size, such as the giant sequoias from California or the palms from Brazil and China, but the most tall tree in the garden is a big eucalyptus, with 50 meters.
There are two relic species that are considered living fossils at the main entrance: the Ginkgo Biloba, originally from China (that is used for therapeutic application for peripheral and cerebral micro-circulation) and the tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera L., that blossoms in June, the traditional month of final exams ("pontos") of the University and, for that very reason, is known as the "'arvore-do-ponto" ("exams tree").

Today, as in the past, the botanical garden is a place of tranquillity, enjoyment, discovery and knowledge, and I hope to be blessed by this place for my master degree thesis.


  1. this is gorgeous...what a beautiful environment to study in!

  2. Absolutely amazing pictures...i wish we had such a park here in town

  3. Impressive! The Botanical Garden is such a beautiful place! What an excellent subject to do a master thesis on. Good luck!

  4. Beautifull garden in Coimbra.
    Great post

  5. I must say that is gorgeous. Very bautiful garden

  6. These are some of the things I miss out on here in California (even if we do have our own beauty!).

  7. Wow that place looks amazing!

  8. Good place to serve as inspiration for the studies.
    keep the good work.