At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

23 November 2015

Prospero Alpini botanist

How coffee was first introduced to Europe

Physician and botanist, Prospero Alpini, was born on this day in 1553 in Marostica near Vicenza.
He is credited with being the first person in Europe to observe and write about the coffee plant.
Alpini went to study medicine in Padua in 1574 and after taking his degree settled down to work as a doctor in nearby Campo San Pietro.
Caffe Pedrocchi was opened in Padova in 1831.
Caffè Pedrocchi in the centre of Padua

He was very interested in botany and so to extend his knowledge of exotic plants he travelled to Egypt in 1580 as physician to George Emo, the Venetian consul in Cairo.
While in Egypt he studied date trees which helped him to work out that there were gender differences between plants. He wrote that: “the female date trees or palms do not bear fruit unless the branches of the male and female plants are mixed together, or, as is generally done, unless the dust found in the male sheath or male flowers is sprinkled over the female flowers.”
In 1593 he was appointed professor of botany at Padua University and, after he died in 1617, he was succeeded in the role by his son, Alpino Alpini.
His botanical work De Medicina Egyptiorum is believed to contain the first report on the coffee plant ever published in Europe or the western world.
The habit of drinking coffee, firstly for medicinal purposes and later for pleasure, was to spread quickly in Venice and several coffee houses were set up. The famous Caffè Florian was established in Piazza San Marco in 1720. In Padua, Caffè Pedrocchi opened in the centre of the town in 1831.

Travel tip:
The main building of Padua University, Palazzo del Bò in Via 8 Febbraio in the centre of Padua, used to house the medical faculty where Alpini would have studied. You can take a guided tour of the building and see the pulpit used by Galileo when he taught there between 1592 and 1610.

Travel tip:
Alpini was born near Vicenza, which has become famous as the city of Andrea Palladio, the most influential architect of his time. Many of the palaces and buildings designed by Palladio in the centre of Vicenza would have been built during the time Alpini was growing up there, before he went to Padua University.


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