The Garden of Padua was founded upon deliberation of the Senate of the Venetian Republic. It was devoted to the growth of medicinal plants, the so-called "simple plants" (Orto dei semplici - simples were herbs that were used as they are rather than in admixtures) which produced natural remedies, and also to help students distinguish genuine medicinal plants from false ones.
A circular wall enclosure was built to protect the garden from the frequent night thefts which occurred in spite of severe penalties (fines, prison, exile). The Botanical Garden was steadily enriched with plants from all over the world, particularly from the countries that participated in trade with Venice. Consequently, Padua had a leading role in the introduction and study of many exotic plants, and a herbarium, a library and many laboratories were gradually added to its Botanical Garden.
At present, the Botanical Garden allows for intensive didactic activity as well as important research to be conducted on its grounds. It also cares for the preservation of many rare species. In 1997, it was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site on the following grounds:
The Botanical Garden of Padua is the original of all botanical gardens throughout the world, and represents the birth of science, of scientific exchanges, and understanding of the relationship between nature and culture. It has made a profound contribution to the development of many modern scientific disciplines, notably botany, medicine, chemistry, ecology and pharmacy.
The design of the Botanical Garden is commonly attributed to Andrea Moroni, who created some of the most important public monuments in Padua, such as the Basilica of Santa Giustina in Prato della Valle, the town hall and the university in the first half of the 16th century. However, the real architect was Daniele Barbaro, a Venetian nobleman who was a man of vast learning and translator of Vitruvius' De Architectura. He followed the example of the medieval Horti Conclusi, (enclosed gardens), marking the architecture by a perfect pattern of a square within a circle, divided into four parts by two paths oriented according to the cardinal points. The Botanical Garden was inaugurated in 1545, and used as a teaching facility by the University of Padua in the following year.
The current appearance of the principal palace dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries. By the end of the 16th century, the garden was enriched with many fountains fed by a gigantic wheel hydrophore, to ensure proper irrigation. In 1704, four gates and gateways were built with huge embellished acroterions (ornaments) in red stone, decorated with plants made of wrought iron. During the first half of the 18th century, the wall was refined along the external perimeter by a balustrade made of Istria Stone on which vases and half-length portraits of important persons were placed. A statue of Theophrastus was built beside the south door, as well as a statue of Solomon, (signed by Antonio Bonazza), local point for the east door and the four seasons fountain, which was enriched with 18th-century portraits made of Carrara marble. In the first half of the 19th century, greenhouses and a botanic theatre were built and half-length portraits of eminent botanists such as Carl Linnaeus were placed on the cornice. One of the greenhouses still maintains these historic arches and small cast-iron columns.
In the garden there are also three sundials: a cubic one, a circular one and a cylindrical one. On the inside, four glacises are divided into collections of flower-beds. At the center, a pool of water for the aquatic plants is fed by a continuous jet of hot water which comes from a water-bearing stratum of earth located three-hundred meters below the level of the garden.