Living in Florence it’s easy to become blasé to the wealth of galleries, museums, palaces and villas that we are surrounded by. So much so that it took a visitor to inspire me to finally visit Villa Medici in Poggio a Caiano on the outskirts of Florence in the province of Prato. Surprisingly it was free admission, with hardly any other visitors, so we could pick the brains of the local attendants about the Villa’s history despite detailed information on display in each room.
The Villa became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 along with the 11 other Medici villas and 2 gardens as “The Medici villas form the first example of the connection between architecture, gardens, and the environment and became an enduring reference for princely residences throughout Italy and Europe. Their gardens and integration into the natural environment helped develop the appreciation of landscape characteristic Humanism and the Renaissance.”
Begun by Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1445, completed by his son in 1520, and designed by architect Giuliano da Sangallo, the eldest in a large and distinguished family of Florentine architects. Typical of Renaissance architecture it contains Classical elements with its Ionic temple façade, a definite ‘Wow‘ factor on entering the gardens, and barrel vaulted ceilings in the interior. It’s simple elegance and curved staircase is very appealing and we are drawn inside.
Lorenzo the Magnificent loved the Villa, using it as his Summer residence, entertaining numerous guests and fondly rearing pheasants for the hunting season. Glorious weddings and important events were held alongside mysterious tragic events like the death of Francesco I ( son of the Grand Duke of Tuscany) and his second wife Bianca Cappello. They both died of acute arsenic poisoning only hours apart, suspected to be at the hands of his brother fearing exclusion from his inheritance! Another being the sad marriage between Cosimo III and the young cousin of the king of France, Margaret Louise d’Orleans. ‘At only 15 she dreaded the thought of marrying a fat, mournful Italian heir to a now impoverished Duchy and made him suffer for it, spending huge amounts of his money on clothes and entertaining and when he finally let her return to France she took with her an immense sum as well as wall hangings, beds and valuable articles.’ (Christoper Hibbert – Florence, the Biography of a City)
And the Villa remains rather sparsely furnished today. After the Medici dynasty the Villa continued to be home to royalty and nobles – Hapsburg-Lorraine dynasty and important people like Elisa Baciocchi, Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister and King Vittorio Emanuele II when Florence was the Capital of Italy between 1865-1870.
The loggia covers the Roman sarcophagi and we head past into the Court theatre room and then through to the Billiard room with its beautiful decorated ceiling.
The impressive Grand Hall of Leo X heavily adorned with frescoes whose ‘primary purpose is to celebrate the Medici dynasty through comparison to important ancient historical events.’
The delicately furnished bedroom and marble bathroom were lived in by two important women, Elisa Baciocchi and later the Countess of Mirafiori known as the ‘Bella Rosina‘ mistress and later wife of King Vittorio Emanuele II.
While the study and bedroom of the King seem hardly lavish!
Fortunately Margaret Louise d’Orleans left at least one large tapestry for us to admire, a fabulous hunting scene so intricate it seems more like a painting.
Now I only have another 9 Villa Medici’s to visit having seen Villa La Pietra and the gardens of the Villa Medici in Fiesole and today’s most famous Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano!