Parco delle Cascine [Cascine Park]
Situated on the right bank of the River Arno, the Parco delle Cascine covers a surface area of approximately 118 hectares, making it the largest public park of Florence. In addition to the Arno, it is bordered by the torrent Mugnone and the canal Macinante built in 1563. Originally serving as a hunting reserve and to raise cattle, the Cascine was a vast farm belonging to Alessandro and Cosimo I de’ Medici. The name cascina indeed indicated a beechwood hoop used to press curdled milk in the making of cheese. Particular attention was devoted to soil maintenance and to the choice of crops, which included rare species of fruit-bearing plants that interested the Medicis for experimentation and for their scientific-cultivation rareness.
With the transfer of the grand duchy to the Lorraine family, despite continuing to have a rural aspect, the Cascine increasingly more took on the function of a park that was opened to the public on special occasions. The first major works to transform the farm into a park were conducted as of 1786 on a project by Giuseppe Manetti. Along a symbolic route, a series of street furniture and buildings were sited, including a royal villa, the Quercione watering-place, also known as "Fontana delle boccacce" a pyramid with the function of ice house (today used as a tool shed by gardeners) and two peacock aviaries (pavoniere), originally called pheasant aviaries and shaped like neoclassical temples, where birds were kept. Giuseppe Manetti was also entrusted with the task of organising parties and receptions. Particularly grand were the celebrations for the induction of Ferdinando, held on July 2-5, 1791.
Under Elisa Baciocchi, during the Napoleonic era, the Cascine became a public park proper, and in the course of the 19th century, numerous works were carried out to enlarge and arrange it. The Parco delle Cascine was purchased by the Commune of Florence in 1869. In the course of the 20th century, several sports activities assumed greater importance, including horseracing, tennis, archery, skeet shooting and swimming at the Pavoniere. In 1937, on a project by Raffaello Fagnoni, the buildings that house the School of Aviation were built. The Grand-ducal Farmhouse today houses the School of Agricultural Science of the University of Florence, which has enriched the park with specialised crops in the area surrounding the building. The park has maintained its monumental look, despite the many interventions of the past two centuries, characterised by vast meadows, impressive avenues, and the woods made up of Atlantis citrons, elms, pines, horse chestnut trees and poplars.
The banks of the Arno in the tract bordering the Cascine are connected by two bridges that characterise the river landscape. Outside the San Frediano gate was the site of a bridge called San Leopoldo in honour of the then-Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II of Lorraine. Built in 1836, all traces of its original structures now lost, the metal bridge suspended over the Arno was built by the French company of brothers Marc and Jules Séguin, famous engineers and experts in designing metal bridges. The San Leopoldo and San Ferdinando bridges with their futuristic structures were important examples of technological progress which, in Italy, began the phase of iron bridges. The San Leopoldo Bridge connected the Royal Road to Pisa and Livorno to the Road to Pistoia and, as of 1848, to the Pignone "industrial" village and the Leopolda train station. It was knocked down in the 1930s to make room for a bridge in masonry which was destroyed during World War II and replaced by today’s bridge with three arches, known as Ponte alla Vittoria. Near the point where the Mugnone flows into the Arno, the Ponte all’Indiano was built in the second half of the 20th century by architects Adriano Montemagni and Paolo Sica, and engineer Fabrizio De Miranda. The bridge has two levels (one for motor vehicles, the other for pedestrians), and was built with a single iron span measuring about 200 metres. The span rests on two abutments in reinforced concrete and supported by suspension cables anchored to two iron pillars, about 48 metres in height and slightly tilted.
Texts by Graziano Magrini
English translation by Victor Beard
Last update 11/gen/2008