Saturday, May 10, 2014

A New World Heritage 'Site' in Tuscany

Now we are seven

Since 2013 Tuscany can boast seven UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Sites. In addition to the historical centres of Florence; Siena; San Gimignano and Pienza; the Cathedral Square of Pisa, known as Piazza dei Miracoli (and who could deny the miracle?); as well as the 'cultural landscape' of the Val d'Orcia; now twelve Medici Villas and two Gardens are collectively on the list.

Giardino del Cavaliere, Knight's Garden, Boboli Gardens Florence

UNESCO's reasons for embracing the villas as a world cultural heritage site are as follows: 

Twelve villas and two gardens spread across the Tuscan landscape make up this site which bears testimony to the influence the Medici family exerted over modern European culture through its patronage of the arts. Built between the 15th and 17th centuries, they represent an innovative system of construction in harmony with nature and dedicated to leisure, the arts and knowledge. The villas embody an innovative form and function, a new type of princely residence that differed from both the farms owned by rich Florentines of the period and from the military might of baronial castles. 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 of Humanism and the Renaissance.  ...from UNESCO site.

Sound the trumpets, roll the drums! The twelve villas are: 

Villa di Poggio a Caiano

At Poggio a Caiano, Prato, built around 1480 by Lorenzo de' Medici: the prototype villa. This was the first time a country house was designed with windows overlooking the countryside instead of a central courtyard.Today the villa is a museum and houses an exhibition of still life paintings: details here

Villa di Cafaggiolo

Near Barberino del Mugello, in the family since the 14th century, renovated from 1452 by Michelozzo. The Medici originated in the Mugello, an area about 25 kilometres north of Florence; Cafaggiolo still displays some of its original fortified aspect. Much frequented by the family, it was the scene of many historical events, including a murder.
Not open for visits

Villa del Trebbio

At San Piero a Sieve, in the Mugello, renovated from 1428 as a castle: in a panoramic and strategic location overlooking the valley of the Sieve.
Not open for visits

Villa di Careggi, Florence

Purchased and remodelled after 1417 by Michelozzo, it became the site of Cosimo I de' Medici's Platonic academy, and was one of the first of the family's villas built in Florence. The upper loggia evinces an opening-up of the traditional fortified structure.
Now part of an important hospital, it is not open for visits
Villa Medici, Fiesole

Fiesole, Florence, built 1451-1457, considered, thanks to its outward-looking windows, the architectural predecessor to Poggio a Caiano. Belongs to the Mazzini Marchi family since 1959

Villa di Castello

In Sesto Fiorentino, Florence. Reconstructed in 1477, Villa di Castello was the country residence of Cosimo I de' Medici. Its gardens were famous and groundbreaking (!) and the villa was home to Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Primavera. For information and garden viewing times.

Villa La Petraia

In the hilly area of Castello, Florence, La Petraia originally belonged to the Brunelleschi family from 1364, passed through the hands of other families and was bought by Cosimo around 1544. Today a museum, it can be visited at these times
Villa di Cerreto Guidi 

Built in 1556 by Cosimo I as a fortified hunting lodge, notable for double-ramp brick staircase, the villa is now surrounded by the town of Cerreto Guidi.Today houses the historical museum of hunting: visiting times

Seravezza Palace

Located near Lucca and Versilia's marble quarries and built around 1560, it hosted some of Florence's sculptors as well as Cosimo I himself, when he came to visit his marble quarries and silver mines. Here is the site, if you can glean any information from it...The palazzo appears to house a library today
Villa La Magia

At the centre of Quarrata, Pistoia, near Monte Albano, the villa was built in the 14th century and restored by the Medici from 1584 as a hunting lodge. Today the villa can be visited and hosts weddings and other events. Info here.
Villa di Artimino

Also called La Ferdinanda or 'the villa of the hundred chimneys', villa Artimino is near Prato and was built by Ferdinando I de' Medici in 1596 as a summer residence. Now a hotel, restaurant and farm hosting conferences and other events, the villa can be visited and enjoyed by anyone.
Villa di Poggio Imperiale

Arcetri, Florence: the neo-classical villa (originally composed of just the central structure), was confiscated by Cosimo I in 1565 and given to his daughter Isabella, where she held court. The villa has been renovated and redesigned many times over the centuries and has witnessed much history and drama.
Today the villa houses an exclusive girls' boarding school and only the state rooms are open to the public, by appointment  

The two gardens are:

 the Boboli Gardens of Florence

Magnificent 16th century Italian formal gardens, easily accessible behind Palazzo Pitti, full of sculptures, grottoes, follies, nympheums, ponds etc. originally commissioned by Cosimo's wife Eleonora of Toledo. Times etc here.

 and the Gardens of Pratolino-Villa Demidoff

Now part of Villa Demidoff, the Pratolino Gardens were established in 1569 to 1581 and are located 12 kilometres north of Florence. They were commissioned by Francesco I de' Medici for his Venetian mistress Bianca Capello; the couple were married there in 1579. The sculpture depicts the 'Appenine Colossus' by Giambologna.
Garden opening times.

nb: to avoid confusion: Cosimo de' Medici (1389 - 1464), was the first of the Medici dynasty to make his mark. His wealth derived from banking and he was a great patron of the arts and sciences. Cosimo I de' Medici (1519 - 1569), from a different branch of the Medici family, eventually became Grand Duke of Tuscany.

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