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BOTANICAL ITINERARIES OF TUSCANY "Beneath the towering walls of Piazzale Michelangelo sprawls the Iris Garden, a spatial synthesis that juxtaposes the baricentric David of the monument to art and culture with the extraordinary monument to nature represented by the irises in bloom, an emblem for the city. Florence's coat of arms boasts ancient origins. Already depicted on a funerary urn from the 4th century BCE, it traces back to the Etruscan people of Fiesole, that 'lunate hill' unfurling to the north, much like the origins of its floral name, debated since the Middle Ages, whether in Latin as Florentia or in the vernacular as Fiorenza, 'in likeness of the flowers and lilies that abundantly flourished around the city.'

In civic heraldry, during the Ghibelline rule, the 'blossomed and budded' white lily appeared on a red field, and the coat of arms was red with the silver Florentine lily; then, from 1267 with the Guelfs predominating, the colors were inverted and the lily became red on a white field, as Dante Alighieri emphasizes in the 'Paradiso.' As for its precise denomination, Vincenzo Borghini (1515-1580) noted: 'it is not strictly a lily but rather a flower of the iris called by botanists Iris florentina, divided into three leaves; nevertheless, it was always known and called by the name of lily,' indeed, the tripartite and jagged corolla represents the lily or the field iris called 'white iris' from diacciolo or ghiacciolo, spontaneously widespread in the plain and surrounding hills. In honor of the iris's connection to the city, in 1954, hybridizers Flaminia G. Specht and Nita Stross Radicati proposed to then-Assessor for Fine Arts and Gardens, Piero Bargellini, to create a garden dedicated to the flower to spread its culture and organize an annual international competition to improve its quality and, since there is no red iris in the world, to create a scarlet iris as a tribute to the city's banner.

The Municipality granted a portion of the Bastioni Estate for this purpose, and in 1957, what became the 'first international iris competition' was announced. In a short time, the hilly terrain, overlooking the vast panorama and sloping steeply towards Piazza Poggi, was terraced with dry stone walls and the ancient olive grove, according to Tuscan agricultural tradition, was arranged in terraces with dry stone walls and the ancient olive grove. Various areas were delimited by pathways, squares, and stone stairs and organized into a rustic garden by engineers under the direction of engineer Conti, based on architect Giuliano Zetti's design. The garden was officially inaugurated in May 1957. In 1959, with the contribution of passionate botanist Alberto Chiarugi, who became its first president, the 'Italian Iris Society' was founded, whose aims focused on the dissemination of the Iris, the protection of the garden, and the organization of the international competition. In 1967, in the lower part of the garden, municipal technicians inserted a Japanese-inspired pond for the cultivation of water lilies, Iris pseudacorus, and aquatic plants, surrounded by the seasonal colors of maples and flowering cherries. The Garden, which preserves numerous varieties and species considered at risk of extinction, listed in the 'Regional repertoire of autochthonous plant genetic resources,' should be considered an important germplasm reserve of the Iris genus. Furthermore, since it has hosted all competitions from 1957 to the present, it can be considered an open-air museum and a single-crop botanical garden, offering scholars and enthusiasts the opportunity to make interesting observations and experiences."

Ines Romitti