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In the footsteps of Dan Brown’s “Inferno” : Giardino di Boboli

With the book "Inferno" by Dan Brown in hand we discover the famous Boboli Gardens in Florence.

The latest bestselling novel by Dan Brown “Inferno” is for a large part set in Florence and one of the places that play a prominent role in the story is the Giardino di Boboli (Boboli Garden). The main characters of the story Robert Langdon and Sienna Brooks traverse the famous gardens in their attempt to escape their pursuers.

I visited the Gardino di Boboli and in search of the places that are mentioned in the book. Along the Isolotto through the tunnel of leaves and Viottolone to the Neptune fountain and from there to the Grotta del Buontalenti and the door that provides access to the Vasari Corridor.

The massive expanse of the Boboli Gardens was now a popular tourist attraction. Langdon had little doubt that if he and Sienna could gain entrance to the gardens, they could make their way across it, bypassing the Porta Romana undetected. After all, the gardens were vast and had no shortage of hiding places—forests, labyrinths, grottoes, nymphaea. More important, traversing the Boboli Gardens would eventually lead them to the Palazzo Pitti, the stone citadel that once housed the main seat of the Medici grand duchy, and whose 140 rooms remained one of Florence’s most frequented tourist attractions.

“Inferno” – Dan Brown

Isolotto


They were standing beneath the trees at the edge of a wide-open plaza where several paths intersected. In the distance to their left, Langdon spied an elliptical-shaped lagoon with a small island adorned with lemon trees and statuary. The Isolotto, he thought, recognizing the famous sculpture of Perseus on a half-submerged horse bounding through the water.

“Inferno” – Dan Brown

isolotto-boboli

Viottolone and tunnel of leaves


“The Pitti Palace is that way,” Langdon said, pointing east, away from the Isolotto, toward the garden’s main thoroughfare—the Viottolone, which ran east–west along the entire length of the grounds. The Viottolone was as wide as a two-lane road and lined by a row of slender, four-hundred-year-old cypress trees.

The wall of dense greenery had a small arched opening cut into it. Beyond the opening, a slender footpath stretched out into the distance—a tunnel running parallel with the Viottolone. It was enclosed on either side by a phalanx of pruned holm oaks, which had been carefully trained since the 1600s to arch inward over the path, intertwining overhead and providing an awning of foliage. The pathway’s name, La Cerchiata—literally “circular” or “hooped”—derived from its canopy of curved trees resembling barrel stays or cerchi.

“Inferno” – Dan Brown

Viottolone

Neptune fountain


They had reached the end of La Cerchiata’s leafy tunnel and dashed across an open lawn into a grove of cork trees. Now they were looking out at the Boboli’s most famous spouting fountain—Stoldo Lorenzi’s bronze of Neptune clutching his three-pronged trident. Irreverently known by locals as “The Fountain of the Fork,” this water feature was considered the central point of the gardens.

“Inferno” – Dan Brown

neptun-fountain

Palazzo Pitti


Langdon led her to the left, and they began descending a steep incline. As they emerged from the trees, the Pitti Palace came into view. The Pitti Palace’s stone facade dominated the landscape, stretching out to their left and right. Its exterior of bulging, rusticated stonework lent the building an air of unyielding authority that was further accentuated by a powerful repetition of shuttered windows and arch-topped apertures.

As they descended, they traversed the Boboli Amphitheater—the site of the very first opera performance in history—which lay nestled like a horseshoe on the side of a hill. Beyond that, they passed the obelisk of Ramses II and the unfortunate piece of “art” that was positioned at its base. The guidebooks referred to the piece as “a colossal stone basin from Rome’s Baths of Caracalla,” but Langdon always saw it for what it truly was—the world’s largest bathtub.

“Inferno” – Dan Brown

palazzo-pitti

Before them now, the skyline of old Florence poked above the trees, visible directly ahead in the distance. She saw the red-tiled cupola of the Duomo and the green, red, and white spire of Giotto’s bell tower. For an instant, she could also make out the crenellated spire of the Palazzo Vecchio—their seemingly impossible destination.

“Inferno” – Dan Brown

Florence (1)
Braccio-di-Bartolo-768x1024
Sienna scanned the sheer face for any open doorway, but all she saw was a niche containing what had to be the most hideous statue she had ever seen. The statue before them depicted an obese, naked dwarf straddling a giant turtle. The dwarf’s testicles were squashed against the turtle’s shell, and the turtle’s mouth was dribbling water, as if he were ill. “I know,” Langdon said, without breaking stride. “That’s Braccio di Bartolo—a famous court dwarf.

“Inferno” – Dan Brown

 

Grotta del Buontalenti


The Buontalenti Grotto—so named for its architect, Bernardo Buontalenti—was arguably the most curious-looking space in all of Florence. Intended as a kind of fun house for young guests at the Pitti Palace, the three-chambered suite of caverns was decorated in a blend of naturalistic fantasy and Gothic excess, composed of what appeared to be dripping concretions and flowing pumice that seemed either to be consuming or exuding the multitude of carved figures. In the days of the Medici, the grotto was accented by having water flow down the interior walls, which served both to cool the space during the hot Tuscan summers and to create the effect of an actual cavern. Langdon and Sienna were hidden in the first and largest chamber behind an indistinct central fountain. They were surrounded by colorful figures of shepherds, peasants, musicians, animals, and even copies of Michelangelo’s four prisoners, all of which seemed to be struggling to break free of the fluid-looking rock that engulfed them. High above, the morning light filtered down through an oculus in the ceiling, which had once held a giant glass ball filled with water in which bright red carp swam in the sunlight.

“Inferno” – Dan Brown

grotta-buontalenti-1

 

Entrance Corridoio Vasariano


The soldier, rather than entering the grotto, suddenly peeled off to the left and disappeared. Where is he going?! He doesn’t know we’re here? A few moments later, Langdon heard pounding—a fist knocking on wood. The little gray door, Langdon thought. He must know where it leads.

“Inferno” – Dan Brown

Ingang-Corridoio-Vasariano

 

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