The creation of a Botanical Garden at the University of Porto was much desired by the Faculty of Sciences.
In 1836, the education reform introduced by Passos Manuel had led to the creation of a Botanical Garden in the vicinity of the Polytechnic Academy of Porto, more precisely near the walls of the extinct Convent of Nossa Senhora do Carmo dos Carmelitas Descalços, where the National Guard is today. However, at the beginning of the 20th century, these grounds were handed to the National Guard and, although it was promised that an equivalent space would be donated to the Polytechnic Academy of Porto, this never happened. They also considered the possibility of installing a Botanical Garden on the grounds of the Crystal Palace, but this idea never saw the light of day.
On 31 July 1937, during a School Board meeting at the Faculty of Sciences this issue was discussed extensively, with the unanimous approval of the proposal to purchase a property for the Botanical Gardens and the museums of Natural History of the Faculty, "an observatory or astronomy post", the meteorological observatory of Serra do Pilar "now precariously housed on grounds belonging to the Ministry of War" and a sports field. This proposal was made by Professor Américo Pires de Lima and Gonçalo Sampaio.
The property that the Faculty of Sciences had in mind was located in Campo Alegre and had been owned by João Henrique Andresen and Joana Andresen. When the heirs of Joana Andresen put the land and house for sale, the Faculty of Sciences feared that other people would be interested in it, and, if there was more than one buyer, the property would be divided into lots and sold at retail. It also feared that the City Council of Porto had its own projects for the place. This chance was not as slim as it might seem. If this was the case, the Council would, at any time, expropriate the property for public utility purposes.
In 1943, no decision had been made by the U.Porto on the purchase of the estate. The house, park and greenhouses were abandoned.
However, in the middle of that year, the Ministry of Education learned that the Quinta do Campo Alegre was part of the property to be expropriated, because of the plans to build the access roads to Arrábida Bridge. The Ministry of Public Works and Communications felt that the property should not be bought by the University of Porto. Contradicting this view, the Ministry of National Education considered that since the final urban plan for that area had not yet been approved, it would certainly be done according to the public interest.
The arguments in favour of the purchase of Quinta do Campo Alegre by the University of Porto were based on the fact that, on the one hand, there was an urgent need to provide social assistance to students, especially to those who travelled from far to study in Porto. On the other hand, the student community needed physical education. To these needs was added the need to free some space in the building occupied by the Faculty of Sciences, in Praça de Gomes Teixeira, to house the museums of natural sciences, and the classrooms for foreign cultures.
In May 1949 the Estate was purchased by the State, thus realizing a deep ambition of the Faculty of Sciences. The Director of the FCUP, Professor Augusto Hermenegildo Ribeiro Peixoto wrote to the Rector, showed his contentment and gratitude: "The purchase of the Quinta do Campo Alegre was one of the greatest desires of this Faculty, achieved through a great effort and tenacity, due to the many obstacles raised over years of lengthy discussions. The influence, soul and enthusiasm you have shown were decisive to overcome all the pitfalls."
New obstacles hindered the delivery of the Estate to the University. They were overcome and on 7 January 1950 the Directorate-General of Treasury informed the Rector that the Minister of Finance had authorized the temporary transfer, "of the urban and rural property (…) known as "Quinta do Campo Alegre" to be used for various purposes in the interest of that entity, which, however, will be responsible for safekeeping and preserving it."
On 12 January, the deed of transfer was signed at the Finance Department of the district of Porto. The gardens, the park, the greenhouses and most of the arable land were assigned to the Botanical Gardens. Almost all the pine forest was reserved for the sports field and to build a students’ residence.
The Estate had long needed thorough rehabilitation, starting with the green areas. The parks and gardens were first cleaned by a group of institutionalized children from the Correctional Facilities of the Juvenile Court of Porto, who also repaired the collapsed garden walls. The Ministry of Public Works granted two hundred contos to repair the palace, and order a project for the construction of a sports field and a residence hall. The repair of the outsider of the house was the responsibility of the Directorate of National Buildings.
The herbaria, library and offices of the naturalist and auxiliary staff were transferred to Casa Andresen, as well as the office of the Garden Inspector, who, until then, occupied the building in Praça Gomes Teixeira. Since the idea was to share the property with other University services, it was agreed that "the scientific and the sports and residential parts should be totally separated from the Botanical Gardens, which is, at the same time, an open-air museum, to be visited only at appropriate times, under the care and supervision of competent and responsible staff. (…)".
The urban plans resulting from the construction of the Arrábida Bridge, designed by engineer Edgar Cardoso, with works being awarded in 1956, were another setback. The University followed the construction closely, but could not overcome all the drawbacks. In the early 1960s, they noticed that the services provided by the Botanical Gardens had been affected by the opening of access roads to the bridge, under construction, and that the works had seriously mutilated the gardens. To these were added other problems caused by the lack of fences along the opened roads, so the "Garden was open to intruders, with all consequent inconveniences."
In any case, apparently none of these problems would be left unsolved. The Road Authorities were in charge of the fences and the damaged garden would be offset by an offer of an adjacent piece of land.
This is how the University became the owner of the property called "Quinta Burmester", purchased by the State from the City Council of Porto in 1957, also situated in Rua do Campo Alegre, next to Quinta Andresen on the west side.
The recovery works of the Garden, which had been abandoned from the 1930s to the 1950s, was, in part, due to the landscape architect Franz Koepp. Between 1952 and 1967, he developed many plans, such as the replacement of the tennis-court and the orchards with small gardens, the construction of greenhouses and the installation of a semi-automatic sprinkler system. Later, between 1969 and 1972, the forestry engineer Renato Raul Barreto continued these projects and decided to build a large pond, combining aesthetics with utility, since the pond is also used as a water reservoir.
In 1983, the Management of the Botanical Institute expressed its satisfaction at the fact that the General Plan for Campus 3 catered for the installation of the Botanical Institute in the building of the "Pedagogical Complex", in Campo Alegre, after the Faculty of Arts moved to its new facilities in Via Panorâmica. This was the year that the Garden closed to the public due to its state of degradation.
At the end of the following year, the Botanical Institute sent a report to the Rector describing the State of the facilities: "At the beginning of this new academic year [1984-85] I inform (…) that the greenhouses (…) are in a severe state of degradation (…). The iron structure supporting the glazing is rusty, and it breaks many glass panes. Even if we replace the glazing, the water penetrates through the rust, damaging the plants and part of the heat escapes through the many cracks. (…) The valuable plant collection in the greenhouses of the Botanical Gardens of Porto is in danger (…)."
In 1987, the Rectory of the U.Porto informed the City Council of Porto of the need to carry out a series of works that would make the Botanical Gardens more open to the public, and among other ideas, to build a tea-house in the gardens.
In 1988, the recovery of the Botanical Gardens was included in the Recovery of Historical Gardens programme sponsored by the Portuguese Institute of Cultural Heritage, and supported by the Portuguese Association of Landscape Architects. The interventions were not limited to the garden areas, since the buildings were also upgraded. Other improvement projects also benefitted the infrastructures of the garden. In 2007, full revamping works in this area were funded by the University of Porto and European funds (FEDER). In 2010, the Garden reopened to the public.
Covering an area of 4 hectares, the Botanical Gardens consists of an historical garden divided into 3 sections, separated by camellia hedges, the ponds with water plants, a park filled with gymnosperms, beeches, oaks, magnolias and tulip trees, among other species, a garden of sappy plants and a greenhouse area with tropical and sub-tropical plants, and orchids.