Behind Palazzo Pitti, which was for nearly four centuries the residence of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany and for a short period of the kings of Italy, stretches the beautiful Boboli Gardens. Lying on the hill, between Palazzo Pitti, Forte Belvedere and Porta Romana, the garden has a triangular shape and occupies an area of about 45,000 square meters. It is characterized by two orthogonal axes which meet at Bacino di Nettuno [Neptune's Basin]. The leaning axes are marked by a central route and develop through a series of terraces, sculptures and green elements, and paths, which introduce to specific environments: glades, gardens, fences, buildings. It blends nature and works of art by creating a unique environment.
The Medici for first took care of the design, creating the Italian garden model, which became an example for many European Courts. The large evenly divided green surface is a veritable open-air museum, filled with mostly antique and Renaissance statues, and ornate with grotto, beautiful fountains, ponds and hidden walkways. The Boboli Gardens has a high visual impact. The origins of the garden date back to 1550 when it was decided to create a natural continuation of the court of Palazzo Pitti.
At the beginning, an amphitheater was built leaning against the hill behind the palace. Initially intended to be a garden, then it was built in masonry and decorated with ancient sculptures: the fountain “dell’Oceano” sculpted by Giambologna, the small Grotta di Madama, and the Grotta Grande known as Grotta del Buontalenti that was begun by Vasari and ended by Ammannati and Buontalenti between 1583 and 1593.
This is one of the most fascinating examples of Mannerist architecture and culture: decorated inside and outside with stalactites, originally animated by water and lush in vegetation, it is composed of three following environments of which the first, painted in fresco to create the illusion of a natural cave where shepherds and wild animals move, contained the Michelangelo's Prisoners, placed here after entering the Medici collection and now replaced by casts. In the rooms that follow, there are sculptures as important as the Venus emerging from the bath by Giambologna and the group of Paris and Helen by Vincenzo de Rossi. The Grotta del Buontalenti is placed at the end of the Vasari Corridor tour.
Other important stops in the visit to the garden, coming from the amphitheater, are: the fountain called “del Forcone” [pitchfork] or "Vivaio di Nettuno” [nursery of Neptune], named after the sculpture by Stoldo Lorenzi, which is placed at the center and characterized by a large trident; and the large statue “dell’Abbondanza” [abundance], right at the top of the hill, begun by Giambologna as a portrait of Joan of Austria, wife of Francis I, but ended in 1637 as an allegorical figure.
Going down towards Porta Romana, after the Prato dell'Uccellare, you can find the Viottolone, a large boulevard lined with cypress trees and statues that leads to the square dell'Isolotto, made by Giulio and Alfonso Parigi in 1618, the center of which is the great fountain “dell’Oceano”by Giambologna. The fountain is surrounded by three other sculptures representing the Nile, the Ganges and the Euphrates. All around, there are other statues of classic and popular subject of which the latter from the 17th and 18th centuries, such as those that show groups of children playing traditional games. From the 18th century, the Lorraine period, there are the Kaffeehaus (1775), the Limonaia (1777-8), designed by Zenobio del Rosso, and the Palazzina della Meridiana started in 1776 by Gaspero Paoletti. In 1789 an Egyptian obelisk from Luxor was placed in the center of the Amphitheatre.
This particular statue of the Gardens, representing the court dwarf (ironically nicknamed Morgante, like the giant in the work of Pulci), happily drunk (bacchino) and completely naked in the act of riding a turtle, was sculpted in 1560 by Valerio Cioli. It was placed in the north-west area of Palazzo Pitti, next to the exit of the passage of the Corridoio Vasariano. As of today you can only admire a faithful copy of it.