The Castello Villa and Garden

Tourists that visit Florence often do not feel the need to leave the city centre due to the sheer beauty which can be found there, but those who have a little patience will find, outside the city centre, amazing treasures without the crowds: the lesser known gems of Florence.

Such is the case with the Villa Medicea di Castello, with its beautiful garden, which is located in the Florentine hills in the North Western part of the city. The villa was originally a medieval building, dating back to the 1400′s, which was bought by the medici family and was transformed into an elegant palace.

The villa probably would have remained just another of the Medici family’s many holiday homes if Cosimo de’ Medici, who spent much of his childhood there, hadn’t shown a particular liking for the place. As it happened, after having defeated his enemies in the Montemurlo battle and thus regaining his power, Cosimo de’ Medici decided to move into the villa in 1537 and went on to transform it into a magnificent place of wonders. The following year he appointed two architects to work on the project, Niccolò Pericoli and Bartolomeo Ammannati, who had previously worked together on the famous Florentine Boboli Gardens.
The transformation of the villa was Cosimo’s way of celebrating his victory and symbolising the power of the Medici dynasty following the victorious defeat of his enemies. The message was clear: it was thanks to the work of Cosimo that the Florentines, and the whole of Tuscany, were able to live in a new era of happiness and wellbeing. His message was repeated by two large paintings, appropriately named The Spring and The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli who held an exhibition of his work in the villa.

Nothing in the villa was left untouched by Cosimo during these renovations. The fountains, the statues which form part of a well thought out pathway, a route decorated with items telling of myths and legends, as requested by Cosimo himself and realised with the help of writer Benedetto Varchi. Each item is considered as part of a whole.

However, perhaps the most beautiful attraction of the garden is the Grotta degli Animali*. The artificial cave is a magical place, worked on by several artists including Giambologna, Giorgio Vasari, Tribolo and Ammannati and Bachiacca, made up of several underground rooms completely covered with fake stalactites, pebbles, seashells, whilst the floor is completely covered by a marble mosaic. The cave also features a host of sculptures and images of all God’s most beautiful creatures; giraffes, hippopotomi, fish, bears, crustaceans, wolves, dogs, turtles, and dolphins. As well as many more animals, immortalised in bronze, stone and marble. But bigger than all the other animals, is the elegantly regal Unicorn, whose horn symbolises the purity of the water. And what better symbol could there be to represent the good Medici government?

This symbolic representation, presented in the form of such an illustrious villa and garden, was the first of its kind and you can easily see why the idea was then copied centuries later by many of Europes most important monarches.

Cosimo lived in the tranquility of Villa Castello with his wife, Camilla Martelli, right up until she died in 1574. The villa remained Medici property until the end of the 18th century when it became surrendered to the Lorena family. Finally in 1920, it became property of the Italian state who turned it into the headquarters of the ancient and prestigious Accademia della Crusca, an academy which works to protect and preserve the Italian language.

Unfortunately over the years things were altered and removed from the property. For example, the birds from the Grotta degli Animali were moved to the Museo del Bargello and the gardens many fountains became used as part of an ingenious hydraulic system. Furthermore, the Lorena family dismantled the large bathtubs in the outside garden, the garden’s labyrinth and changed the design of several parts. But despite these changes, visitors to the garden are still dazzled by the endless wonders which appear in front of their eyes. It seems to be truly lost in a dreamworld with the amazing natural scents of the roses, and the lemons from the lemon trees which make up for the missing features.

Despite its many emissions and alterations, the Castello gardens continue to be a garden of wonders and finally on reaching the end of the garden the best is yet to come, after spending hours being dazzled by the things in the garden, as an amazing view of Florence awaits, which will take your breath away.

*Grotta degli Animali means, the animals’ cave.

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