A History of Italy’s Most Beautiful Gardens

Ten Years of Trauttmansdorff

June 2011 marks the tenth anniversary of the Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle. In principle, this should simply be a story of a botanical garden. Yet, anyone who brings a facility such as this to life in the twenty-first century will set unique standards for it and base the project on a creative idea dictated by the age in which we live. The sheer number of enthusiastic people – both from South Tyrol and from abroad – who have visited the gardens evinces Trauttmansdorff’s success over the course of the last decade and the great attention to detail with which this modern, vibrant, innovative and attractive garden complex was designed.

In 1988, Luis Durnwalder, who would later become governor of South Tyrol, Mayor Franz Alber, designer Manfred Ebner, Klaus Platter, who would later become director of the gardens, and journalist Robert Asam announced the project together in front of Trauttmansdorff Castle. A groundbreaking ceremony for the botanical gardens followed in 1994. The construction process, which included installing terraces and water features, was completed over the course of seven years. Landscape designers and architects from throughout Europe – and even Japan – participated in the creation of more than eighty garden landscapes; a strong internal team also provided many of the ideas. The Trauttmansdorff team planted tall shrubs and trees in order to present a mature garden from the outset.

In a way, Trauttmansdorff is the culmination of a very long tradition. There is, in fact, a wealth of reasons to build a botanical garden in Merano. An almost inimitable diversity of plant life, made possible by a very mild climate, has dazzled visitors to Merano since the mid-nineteenth century. The hillsides around the castle offer a fantastic opportunity to experiment with plants. The steepness here also serves to create breathtaking viewpoints – and points of view. Characteristic landscapes from around the globe integrate seamlessly into the Mediterranean feel of these sunny slopes. Little streams meander past exotic plants that would normally only be found in central and northern Europe if grown in greenhouses, past fragrant rose beds, and past ornamental plantings drawn with ruler and compass. A shift in gaze reveals pretty South Tyrolean gardens, meadow orchards, and old local varieties of grapes. A colorful array of plants with blooming highlights form a tableau that is constantly in flux, mingled with artistic elements like pavilions that interpret and represent the processes of nature in a very original way: processes that are creative and educational – and always self-determined. Experience Stations, too, help visitors better understand nature. From the very beginning, Trauttmansdorff had everything necessary to become more than “just” a botanical garden.

From the very beginning, Trauttmansdorff had everything necessary to become more than “just” a botanical garden.

A small voyage through the past years


On June 16, 2001, it finally happened: The Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle opened to the public, attracting 120,000 curious visitors in its first season.

Trauttmansdorff Castle


Trauttmansdorff, which bore considerable pressure to succeed due to high starting costs, could already cover its running expenses with ticket sales by the second year of its existence. On June 27th, Arto Tunçboyaciyan & The Armenian Navy Band performed in the first Garden Nights concert at the Water Lily Pond. This performance launched a series of musical events that attracts numerous visitors to the gardens every summer and is now one of the most prestigious world music festivals in Italy.

Garden Nights


The opening of the Touriseum on March 15, 2003, gave new purpose to the splendid old rooms inside Trauttmansdorff Castle: the building now houses a province museum that explores 200 years of the history of tourism in the Alps. The Touriseum approaches its educational role in a fun way, with a style that is quite unconventional. Since that time, special exhibitions have alternated in theme, focused on topics related to tourism one year then those related to botany the next.

In the same year, Trauttmansdoff undertook a series of projects:

  • Final touches and upgrading of the complex
  • A specially marked themed trail connected the gardens with the centre of the spa town of Merano: Sissi’s Path
  • Trauttmansdoff offered the Glacier & Palms package
  • Family Sundays spoke directly to a younger audience for the first time.

In the same year, on the 25th of May, the Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle celebrated their 500.000th guest.

Touriseum Sissi


Trauttmansdorff completed the entrance building as seen today, with a Klimahaus B certification of energy-efficient building. The building also serves as a visitors’ centre, which receives visitors and bids them goodbye in a fitting way. The Flowering Clay Wall was also installed: this elaborately planted, nearly vertical slope was hit by a series of weather-related landslides in the fall prior to the opening of the botanical gardens.

Twenty singing groups from across South Tyrol sent music soaring across the various garden landscapes in an event called Day of the Choirs. Four years later, 22 ensembles comprising 200 students from Merano Music School went on an eight-hour musical tour around the gardens.

Day of the Choirs


On July 2nd, 2005, Trauttmansdorff recorded its millionth visitor.

Efforts to give visitors a unique arena of experience that continually offers new attractions throughout the garden year, that turns botany into a real experience, that enthrals people of all ages, and that offers a wide variety of events brought Trauttmansdorff ever close to its ultimate goal: to become South Tyrol’s most popular tourist attraction. The Viewing Platform, in the shape of binoculars, has towered high above the downy oak forest since 2005: the outlook point was based on a design by architect Matteo Thun and is named after him. More Experience Stations and garden areas were added little by little, including the Geological Mosaic and a large beehive.

Trauttmansdorff received the coveted honour of being named Italy’s Most Beautiful Garden based on its diversity and innovative design as a recreational venue. A sixth place ranking amongst nominated gardens throughout the whole of Europe followed just a year later..

Various partnerships on a local, national, and international level also emerged over the years as a result of this positive recognition, including the South Tyrol Farmers' Union, the South Tyrol Gardening Association, various working relationships the tourism sector and a national association called Grandi Giardini Italiani, which focuses on the heritage of green spaces in Italy. Sisi’s Road, a European cultural route dedicated to Empress Elisabeth, named Trauttmansdorff as one of its attractions since the empress stayed at Trauttmansdorff Castle twice and had walking paths through the grounds built for especially for her strolls. Sissi has become somewhat of a cult figure today among visitors to the gardens, especially those from Italian-speaking areas. She has even become part of the name of the gardens: “The Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle” is usually replaced with “Sissi’s Gardens at Trauttmansdorff Castle” for the Italian-speaking market.

Matteo Thun's Viewing Platform


A sixth place ranking amongst nominated gardens throughout the whole of Europe followed just a year later.

Trauttmansdorff celebrated its fifth anniversary in 2006 with a rich and varied schedule of events that spanned the entire garden season. In keeping with the theme of Gardens in Motion, Trauttmansdorff has continually delighted visitors since with new interactive stations and events that connect botany with music and cuisine. The Breakfast at Sissi’s series took place for the first time in 2006: today, the traditional Sunday brunches on the Sissi Terrace have become very popular. The legendary Garden Nights concert series continued, with the tag line “World Music at its Finest” added. In addition to the first botanical exhibition designed in-house, entitled The Myth of the Gingko, there was a trilingual book, Trauttmansdorff - Die Gärten | I Giardini | The Gardens released. As part of its five-year anniversary celebrations, Trauttmansdorff hosted the exhibition Olive Tree Sculptures. In it, artist Gianfranco Timossi created allegories, three metres high and weighing 1.5 tonnes, based on the cantos of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy. Visitor numbers continued to rise, reaching 370,000 per season. The brand name “The Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle” replaces “Merano’s botanical gardens” more and more.

Exhibition The Myth of the Gingko


In the fall of 2007, Trauttmansdorff welcomed its two millionth guest.

Italy's largest publicly accessible sage collection and a large collection of hydrangeas were planted. The Alpenzoo Display (2007) and the Forbidden Garden (2008) opened.

The Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle also took on major initiatives in furtherance of the conservation of botanical rarities: these included the "living fossil" Wollemia nobilis, a 700-year-old olive tree and patronage of the largest and presumably oldest vine in the world at Katzenzungen Castle.

In 2008, a special exhibition entitled All About Palmspresented little-known facts about the botany and history of one of the world’s most versatile plants in the world. Province Governor Luis Durnwalder’s promise to open the gardens specifically to people with disabilities for a day was also fulfilled in 2009: Open Day has now become an annual event as a result of its great popularity. New paths make the gardens more easily accessible to the disabled and even more stroller-friendly. Trauttmansdorff took on another important partner, Merano’s Terme thermal pool and spa complex, and designed a related package called Gardens & Spa.

The team of garden guides expanded to a total of 21 people: 170,000 visitors have taken a guided tour of the complex since it opened. The optimisation of services continued throughout 2008, with the addition of an information point and the installation of new signage throughout the complex. Gardens and Wine, the third Experience Package, was offered in partnership with Katzenzungen Castle.

Trauttmansdorff, which is also dedicated to the preservation of old grape varieties, installed the Tabernaculum in 2009: the oldest grape seeds in South Tyrol – and the world – are displayed inside. The first South Tyrolean tulip was christened at the gardens: the Trauttmansdorf Tulip; it was the first of what would become a collection of Trauttmansdorff Plants.



In 2010, there was special exhibition entitled Heavenly Scent, Ungodly Stench. The Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle offered an especially extensive and diverse program of events as a supplement to the exhibition: events included stimulating, informative lectures by distinguished speakers and aroma-themed walks and tours through the gardens. The restaurant and café also offered specially themed menus.

In August, the three millionth visitor entered the Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle. Visitors in the 2010 season totaled 412,000 persons, topping the numbers of the previous year once again.

Aroma menus


In 2011, Trauttmansdorff celebrated its tenth anniversary with a wide array of events by outdoing itself—in particular, with the opening of a new attraction: The Botanical Underworld goes to the “root” of all plant life, literally, addressing the topic in an eerie and exciting way.

The Trauttmansdorff After Hours series replaces Garden Cocktails. This allowed for new opening hours, extending them to 11:00 p.m. on Fridays in June, July and August. Beginning in June, special Family Tours are offered every Tuesday. Comprehensive tours of the gardens with content that targets specific groups and a fuchsia baptism as part of the foundation of a South Tyrolean Fuchsia Circle of Friends rounded off the anniversary program.

Botanical Underworld