Villa Demidoff of Pratolino

Villa Demidoff of PratolinoTake one melancholy prince, Francesco I de’ Medici, interested in natural sciences and art, and eager to create splendid surroundings for his beloved Bianca Cappello, for whom, it was rumoured, he once killed a man. Add the exhuberant and multi-faceted genius, Bernardo Buontalenti, architect, engineer, inventor of machines, fireworks, set design, fountains and many other talents never required of him by his wealthy and noble patron – and you get a imposing and truly magnificent palace set in perfect harmony in a garden that amazed famous travellers with impeccable taste, like Montaigne and Ludwig of Baviera.

The splendid villa, renowned for its intricate man-made caves and other works of art in the garden, was built between 1569 and 1581. Unfortunately the villa and this magnificent park, were left abandoned for centuries until 1824 when it was decided to demolish the building.

The garden was then re-designed and became one of the most peaceful and romantic gardens ever seen in Tuscany. In 1872 the complex was sold to Prince Paolo Demidoff who restored the Paggeria, or the pages’ building of the residence. Later the park was bought by the province of Florence who maintained the park and opened it for public use from May until September, using it as a fine demonstration of nature.

The characteristics of the garden, with it’s vast lawns and wooded areas, doesn’t follow an easily identifiable theme. To the eyes of the modern visiter the park seems disorganised and fickle, without a logic to the design, but instead there must have been a logic in the original landscaping. And this also adds to the charm of the garden, with its small tree-lined paths that beckon you to follow them, and the classic statues and long-dry fountains within the wood. The gardens engender a curiosity and a desire to imagine how the gardens were in their prime, before many of the major works were removed to the Boboli Gardens in Florence, or the Bargello.

Of course, the best way to explore the garden is to let yourself go and wander among the lawns and woods. In this way every angle becomes a sensational discovery, a wonderful leap into the marvellous, just as Francesco I and his architect must have wanted it to be. Caves, fountains, and the ruins of a swimming pool and aviary. Strolls along boulevards with rainbows arching over in the sprays from the springs, chapels from the 16th century, greek gods and a thousand other astounding aparitions. At the end, tired from the walk, satisfied from breathing in the magical atmosphere, you’ll arrive at the magnificent statue of Appennino (1579 and 1580) – the symbol of the gardens. It is a colossal sculpture by Giambologna, another artist from the court of the Medici. This sculpture is the real custodian of these classic gardens of Tuscany.

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