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OLFACTORY (BOTANICAL) ITINERARY

Olfactory itinerary means to discover Elisa Bonaparte’s passion for plants:

Like the rest of the Bonaparte family, Elisa had a passion for botany. She created a nursery at her residence in Marlia (as Josephine had likewise done at her Malmaison residence), where she introduced various species of plants, including varieties newly arrived from faraway countries.

In this way, new species such as mimosa, magnolia and wisteria began to appear in gardens in and around Lucca. Geraniums – which had up to that point only been cultivated in botanical gardens – also became more common in the area, both in gardens and as indoor plants. Developments in botanical science meant that species previously considered to be harmful to health were now sharing living space with their owners.

From the time that new plant species became part of daily life, taking leisurely walks in plant-filled greenhouses started to become a popular pastime in noble households. This leisure activity sparked new aesthetically pleasing designs such as garden furniture, interior “greenhouses” and cache pots.

Following the olfactory itinerary, tracing Elisa’s footsteps, we can experience the sights, smells, and cultural spirit of her time. We can take in the fragrances of plants introduced by Lucca’s royalty, experiencing them in various locations around the city where these botanical species found their new homes.

Our sense of smell, intrinsically linked as it is to memory, emotion and identity, could be considered the forgotten sense. Recently, it is rediscovering its role – with a host of secrets uncovered with the help of science. Here why the idea of an olfactory itinerary.

With the collaboration of professor Paolo Emilio Tomei (lecturer in Botany at the University of Pisa), in-depth historical and archival research has been carried out on the plant species of Lucca and Villa Reale from the Napoleonic period. Some of these species were introduced for the first time by the Bonapartes, others were already found in the area but were given a new lease of life and a higher profile by the family. Naturally (except for a few rare surviving examples able to reach 200 years of age), the examples in this olfactory itinerary are the ‘offspring’ of the original plants.

Once bought the property, Elisa dedicated particular care and attention to the garden. The impressive garden at Malmaison (a few kilometres from Paris), created with passion by her sister-in-law Josephine, acted as a blueprint.  New or rare species of plant, such as mimosa and wisteria, were sent to Marlia from the park at Malmaison, which was considered an authoritative botanical garden in its own right, visited by European royalty.

Other previously unknown species came from the gardens of the Principality of Naples. They included the camellia japonica, magnolia, tuliptree, plane tree and ginkgo biloba. Thanks to these fascinating additions, the park of Villa Reale (personally managed by Raimondo Grimaldi, Elisa’s famous botanist) became a royal standard for the nobility of Lucca, who began to introduce them into their own gardens, up to now populated by native species only.

Let’s now look at Elisa’s plant description below: