When one thinks of Sicilian gardens, the first place that probably comes to mind is Palermo. The noble palaces of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies are most often associated with the idealized splendor of flowerbeds and carriages. Yet, Catania has a long list of gardens – somewhat secret, as in the novel by Frances Burnett – which are rather overlooked but still very impressive. The type of gardens where you imagine yourself having a picnic or reading a book. And no, I’m not talking about the villa Bellini, the most central and well-known park in the city.
Giardino dei novizi
When I think of a tour in the historical center of Catania, the first secret garden that springs to mind is the “Giardino dei novizi”. It is located in the former Benedictine Monastery of Piazza Dante, which now houses the Department of Humanities of the University of Catania. It was there that I spent the most carefree years of my life. A word of advice? Come and visit in the spring, preferably during the students’ exam season. It is teeming with life, giving you the chance to eavesdrop on plenty of fun conversations.
Giardino di via Biblioteca
If you come out of the giardino dei novizi at lunchtime, walk through Piazza Dante to buy a snack and then go and eat it in the garden on via Biblioteca. It’s a stone’s throw away from the entrance of the Benedictine Monastery, in front of a small square filled with trees. In theory, it is a public thoroughfare enclosed within the walls of the University. The nice thing is that it is one of those places where the work of architect Giancarlo De Carlo – who renovated the whole monastic complex – blends in most with the plants. Up until a few months ago, there was a large carob tree inside a flower bed dedicated to judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Sadly, it no longer exists.
The courtyards of Palazzo Biscari
Years ago, I worked in an office in Palazzo Biscari. This is one of the most impressive and best-preserved noble buildings in Sicily. So much so that even Coldplay used it to shoot a video. Not to mention Carmen Consoli of course. But she is from Catania and was performing at home. I had never properly stopped to take a good look at it until, one day – in May I think – I came across the most amazing bloom of bougainvillea that I had ever seen. The light was so clear that I had to photograph it three times. Yet I could never capture it perfectly.
The Botanical Gardens of Catania
Once again, this was all thanks to my work. I was on the bus, half-reading, when while crossing via Enea, we passed by the botanical gardens. I’m rather fond of them because since I was little, I must have gone there a thousand times on school trips. But now that I’m a little older, I appreciate them more (also, the guides are very switched on). They were founded by a Benedictine monk and whenever I have to imagine Herbology lessons at Hogwarts, I picture them there.