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The Botanical garden: the need for a simple garden

In 1533, for the first time in Italy, the “Lecturam Simplicium” professorship (somewhere between today’s botany, pharmacognosy and pharmacology) was established at the University of Padova.

This professorship was assigned to Francesco Bonafede, a secondary professor of ordinary, practical medicine in Padua. Before this, there were no special professorships focusing on medicines, but rather lectors of practical medicine weighed up which was the most appropriate medicine to use on a case-by-case basis, depending on the individual disease being treated. This new teaching method, on the other hand, had a strong focus on applications, involving the study of pharmacology and therefore the properties of natural products, minerals, plants and animals. This is why there was soon the need, especially for Bonafede, to create a place where medicinal plants could be grown and studied and where practical demonstrations could be held of the subject matter being taught to students.

This requirement was met on 29th June 1545 when authorisation was granted to build the public “Orto dei semplici”, a garden to grow medicinal plants coming from the regions under Venetian rule and areas under the rule of the Serenissima in the eastern Mediterranean. As requested by Bonafede, this garden also featured an “apothecary to be used to study and authenticate medicinal products”. There was a time when medicines were defined as either being “simple” or “mixed”. “Simple” medicines came from natural plant, animal or mineral resources, whereas “mixed” medicines were made by mixing simple ones together. As plants began to dominate this category, the Garden became known as the “Orto dei semplici” (the ‘simple’ plant garden).
It was already possible to visit the botanical garden in 1546, when Luigi Squalermo was prefect.
The creation of this botanical garden represents an incredibly important step forward in the history of modern science as it introduced the demonstrative method into the branch of pharmacology that deals with the study of medicinal substances, especially of plant origin and in the field of botany.