Audioguide of the Medici Villa La Petraia

1. Introduction

Welcome to the Medici Villa La Petraia. A World Heritage Site since 2013, it is part of the UNESCO site series, “Medici Villas and Gardens in Tuscany”, consisting of 14 sites including Tuscan villas and gardens which once belonged to the Medici family.

Visiting Medici Villa La Petraia is a foray into the routines, daily life and entertainment of its succession of illustrious owners over time: from Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici, who had the villa built as a country residence in the late 16th century, to Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy, King of Italy, who, with his wife Rosa Vercellana, known as Bella Rosina, spent long periods here when Florence was the capital of the fledgling Kingdom of Italy.
The origins of the villa, whose name comes from the “pietrosa” or stony local landscape, date back to at least the 14th century. At that time, the building, known as the “palagio”, already had the tower, still in existence today, and belonged to the Brunelleschi family. In 1364, as recalled by Giovanni Villani, the Brunelleschis defended the property in the epic battle against the troops of the English warlord Giovanni Acuto, who tried to storm the tower three times!
In 1422, the Florentine banker Palla Strozzi purchased the building. In the early 16th century, it passed to the Salviati family. Around 1544, Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici bought the building and gave it to his second son, Cardinal Ferdinando. In 1587, on the death of his elder brother Francesco, Ferdinando succeeded him as Grand Duke of Tuscany with the name of Ferdinando I.
The history of the villa we know it today began in 1588. In fact, that year Ferdinando I commissioned the construction of the new residence and garden, traditionally attributed to Bernardo Buontalenti, although the documentation only mentions the architect Raffaello Pagni.
The building is laid out around the central 14th-century tower. Its main facade overlooks the splendid Italian garden, terraced into three levels, the best solution for the steepness of the land.
Frescoes, particularly from the Medici period, still survive on the interior. In fact, the villa has the same appearance as it did at the time of the Savoy, between the second half of the 19th century and 1919, when King Vittorio Emanuele III ceded this and other residences owned by the crown to the Italian State.
With the help of the villa’s 1911 inventory – the last one drawn up before its transfer to the State – it was possible to reconstruct the 19th-20th-century appearance of today’s residence. It also preserves the furnishings, tapestries, works of art and furniture that were part of the daily life of Vittorio Emanuele II, Bella Rosina and their children Vittoria and Emanuele Alberto, Count of Mirafiori. Most of the furnishings are from royal residences of the ancient Italian states, such as the Duchy of Parma or Modena, but also villas in the Lucca area or Palazzo Pitti in Florence, whose furnishings were appropriated by the Savoy at the time of the unification of Italy.
Vittorio Emanuele II and Bella Rosina were very fond of La Petraia, and brought it alterations as well as technological innovations, many from France and Piedmont. In addition to building the delightful Belvedere on the Piano della Figura or Statue Terrace, the couple commissioned the covering of the central courtyard, transforming it into a ballroom. Furthermore, from Turin came the so-called “porte volanti”, doors on special hinges that allowed them to open and close by themselves, not only preventing damage to the floor and precious carpets with their movement, but also preventing the heat from escaping from the rooms during the winter season.
A new heating system arrived in the villa from Piedmont, consisting of round vents attached to the walls, still there today, which blew hot air from the boilers and kitchens located in the underground rooms. This made it possible to avoid lighting the fireplaces and producing soot that would have soiled the furniture and upholstery.
After 1919, the villa had various uses until 1984, when it became a national museum.

Watch the video

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The rooms of the Medici Villa are accessed from the portion of the Garden to the east of the Villa, known since 1788 as the Piano della Figurina or Statue Terrace, for the presence of the fountain of Venus Fiorenza by Giambologna.

Before visiting the royal apartments, let’s look at the the Medici villas as shown in 14 lunettes on exhibit in three rooms on the ground floor. Named for their unique shape, the lunettes were painted by the Flemish painter Giusto Utens and his assistants, commissioned by Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici between 1599 and 1601 for the main drawing room of the villa in Artimino, also known as the “Villa of the Hundred Chimneys” or the “Ferdinanda”. The canvasses, of which there were originally 17, depict the Medici villas and gardens in Tuscany. In that era, they were already a system of country residences and outposts to control the territory. Each bird’s eye view, which faithfully reproduces the appearance of each villa at the time of Ferdinando I, displays a cartouche with the name of the property. Among the other residences, we find Palazzo Pitti with the Boboli Gardens, the villas at Trebbio, La Magia, Collesalvetti, Pratolino, Poggio a Caiano, Castello and Petraia. If you look closely at the Petraia garden, you’ll see that not much has changed over time! The garden of the nearby Medici Villa di Castello is shown in the Sala dei Putti or Cherub Room and in that of Hercules and Antaeus, so named because some original parts of the fountain commissioned by Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici in the mid-16th century can be seen here. The marble basin adorned with bronze cherubs by Niccolò Tribolo and Pierino da Vinci and at the top, the group of Hercules and Antaeus by Bartolomeo Ammannati, are exhibited here indoors to ensure the best conservation. Today, there is a faithful copy of the fountain in the Castello garden. Photo: Historic setting of the Utens lunettes at Villa Artimino; Fountain of Hercules and Antaeus in the Garden at the Villa di Castello

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On leaving the Room of Hercules and Antaeus, there is a wonderful view of the ballroom! This room was originally the courtyard around which the villa was built.

Between 1598 and 1599, the Grand Duchess Christina of Lorraine, wife of Ferdinando I, commissioned the the painter Cosimo Daddi to decorate the two entrance walls. These two sides of the courtyard strikingly display the Medici-Lorraine coat-of-arms and, on the opposite side, the bust of Vittorio Emanuele II. The two walls are entirely decorated with scenes depicting episodes from the Conquest of Jerusalem by Godfrey of Bouillon (1060-1100), Duke of Lower Lorraine or Lotharingia and a heroic knight among the protagonists of Jerusalem Delivered by Torquato Tasso, also an ancestor of Christina of Lorraine.
Some time later, between 1637 and 1646, Baldassarre Franceschini, also known as Volterrano, a leading Baroque artist in Florence, frescoed the other walls of the courtyard on commission from Don Lorenzo de’ Medici, son of Ferdinando and Christina. The Fasti medicei or Medici Glories, represented here, are a theatrical illustration of the main Medici family members, and celebrate their most important enterprises. We can see Pope Leo X – son of Lorenzo the Magnificent – meeting the king of France, Francis I, the triumphal entry of Cosimo I into Siena, the queens of France, Caterina and Maria de’ Medici, seated on the throne with their children, Pope Clement VII, who in Bologna in 1530, crowned Carlo V as emperor. There is also the Medici conquest of Livorno and Tuscan domination of the sea.
In 1872, for the engagement between Emanuele di Mirafiori and Blanche de Larderel, the king commissioned the cover over the courtyard, transforming it into the ballroom. The iron and glass structure, futuristic for the time, was built by the court architects from Piedmont.
It is one of the first examples, in Florence, of the use of iron and glass. These materials, considered modern at that time, blend together well with the ancient paintings and decorations. The roof finishes in a lucernarium with windows which, if necessary, could be opened by the servants to allow for an exchange of air, especially in the hottest season. Today, they are opened automatically by a mechanical system.
The last renovations in the Medici courtyard were the marble floor in the so-called “Venetian style”, and the huge 18th-century chandelier in amethyst crystals in the centre of the room. This chandelier in wood and iron, with 102 lights arranged in three circles, is decorated with droplets of glass and amethyst-coloured crystal, called almonds, because of their shape. The chandelier, which was originally in Palazzo Pitti, arrived at Petraia on August 18, 1872, from the Medici Villa of Poggio a Caiano.

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From the central courtyard, one enters the large red dining room, a magnificent room intended for official stately meals. Visible in the corners of the stucco ceiling are the king’s initials in gold: “VE”.

The prevailing colour in the room is the crimson red of the tapestries and furnishings, colours associated with royalty, and the walls are decorated with 16th-century Flemish tapestries depicting The Four Seasons, The Four Elements, May and June, Julius Caesar on Horseback, and Charity, all from the Ducal Palace of Parma. The composition is ideally completed by the frescoed wall at the end depicting a country landscape, from the late 17th century. In the centre, a large table set with Ginori porcelain evokes the sumptuous royal banquets held here.
Have you already heard the chiming that for over a century has marked the passage of time in the villa? Pause a while in the Red Room and look over your shoulder, right by the entrance door. You’ll find a spectacular clock in wood and gilded metal, an English clock, made around 1770 by the master watchmaker Benjamin Ward. Come closer and look at the dial: you can read his signature!
Watch the video to find out how it works, or continue on your visit to the Music Room
Photo: corner of the stucco ceiling with “VE”, the gold initials of the king
VIDEO: This extraordinary object contains a complex mechanism within and, hidden by a door in the lower part, a pendulum clock operated by two counterweights which, on the stroke of every hour, produce the distinctive chime. The English clock also has many other unique features. Not only does it indicate the hours, minutes and seconds, but also the days of the month and phases of the moon.

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5. Music Room

Go ahead and enter the Music Room, furnished in French velvets decorated with floral motifs reflected in the upholstery on the chairs.

The room is named for the great harmonium piano produced in Naples by Achille Fummo in 1868, on models made in France around 1840. This mahogany instrument, with elegant lines and very fine details, has a grand piano and a double keyboard: the upper one for the piano and the lower one for the harmonium. This way, the two keyboards can be played together or separately, depending on the moment and the type of music desired, similar to organs with more than one keyboard.
Used by the king for pleasure, on the walls of the room are 18th-century view paintings and vagaries. Marking the time is a splendid gilded bronze clock by Jean André Lepaut, a clockmaker of the French court, depicting the Muse Urania and dated 1776, from the Ducal Palace of Modena.
Listen to the sound of a harmonium similar to this one or continue on to the king’s study.

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An odd door without “hinges”, as was the custom in Piedmont, is the entrance to the King’s Study, a room furnished in crimson velvets from the Ducal Palace of Modena and gold finishes.

Here the sovereign worked and received diplomats, ministers and politicians. The splendid Empire-style desk suggests the room’s intended use. Look closely at the fireplace wall, right next to the window. Can you see a small door hidden by the wallpaper? This is the entrance to a secret passage that leads directly to the garden. The sovereign used it to go outside without being disturbed.

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On the opposite side of the studio, however, is an opening connecting the room to the new chapel. It was called this to distinguish it from the ancient one on the first floor and used by the king for moments of prayer.

Go back toward the courtyard and immediately turn right to see the chapel. The environment is frescoed with paintings by Rinaldo Botti, Giuseppe Gricci and Giuseppe Del Moro, depicting architecture and statues in niches, while the vault is painted with Saints and Angels ascending to the Trinity by Pier Dandini, creating the illusion that the chapel is larger than it actually is. At the time of the Medici, the chapel was the bedroom of Grand Duke Cosimo III (1642-1723). In 1744, the Lorraine, who a few years prior had succeeded the Medici in the government of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and had inherited assets and properties – including Villa La Petraia – made this room a private chapel, with a copy of Andrea del Sarto’s altarpiece, Holy Family.
The visit continues on the first floor.

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8. The Canton Corridor

Climb up the stairs and walk along the Canton Corridor. Exhibited here is an extensive series of watercolours on paper made in China and showing stories of everyday life that are only idyllic in appearance.

If you look closely at the scenes, you see depictions of punishment and torture inflicted on the guilty depending on the crimes committed, a warning not to commit bad acts.
These works were made by Chinese workshops specifically for the European market where, at the end of the 18th century, the taste for so-called chinoiserie was very fashionable among aristocrats.

The tour continues with a series of private rooms, where Vittorio Emanuele and Bella Rosina loved to spend their days and welcome their most intimate guests.

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9. The King’s Study

Unlike the same room on the ground floor, this King’s Study did not have a representative function. Here, in fact, the sovereign examined documents, issued orders, signed sentences and worked for the government of the newly united Italy.

The mid-19th century desks, chairs and furniture recall the use the king made of this room, decorated in French blue wallpaper. Here too, masked by the wallpaper, is a small secret and hidden passage which allowed the servants to come when the sovereign summoned them by ringing an electric bell.
The floor is covered with a large carpet from the Ducal Palace of Parma. In the border decoration are the initials “ML”, Maria Luigia of Hapsburg Lorraine.

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10. The Empire Room – The Blue Room – La loggetta di Ponente and lo Studiolo della Fiorenza

After the Empire Room, originally the king’s bedroom, frescoed and furnished with neoclassical decorations that date back to the period of Elisa Baciocchi, sister of Napoleon Bonaparte, you enter the Blue Room, which is the first of several rooms used by the Bella Rosina.

The room takes it name from the elegant blue fabrics with white French silk flowers that cover chairs, sofas and walls, hung with oriental-style paintings. The furniture, from the Ducal Palace of Modena, fills a room where Bella Rosina used to spend time with the court ladies and her most intimate guests, for embroidery and reading. From the room, if you turn left, you enter the Loggia di Ponente, frescoed with 17th-century landscapes, and overlooking the Ballroom. Then comes the Saletta di Venere Fiorenza, where the bronze figure of Venus Fiorenza stands on a pedestal. Giambologna (1529-1608) was commissioned by Cosimo I de’ Medici, between 1570 and 1572, to create the sculpture for the fountain of the same name in the nearby garden of the Villa di Castello. In 1788, Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo moved the fountain to the garden of Petraia, to the so-called Piano della Figurina, where an identical copy still stands today, while the original was moved inside the villa for conservation reasons. The beautiful Venus, having just come out of the water and squeezing her long hair, is the incarnation of the Florence that dominates Tuscany and the other cities of the Grand Duchy conquered by Cosimo I and shown, through their coats-of-arms, in the ring at the feet of the goddess, the work of Tribolo.

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11. The Countess’s Room and the Boudoir

Going back to the Blue Room and continuing on the tour, you come to Bella Rosina’s Chamber and the Boudoir, very private rooms where the king’s wife slept and performed her daily dressing and grooming ritual.

The room is dominated by varying shades of blue fabric that cover the four-poster bed and sofas, and retains elegant 19th-century furniture from the Villa Reale in Marlia, near Lucca. In the next room, the delightful little Boudoir, there are again mirrors and furnishings used for personal care, as well as a unique Lumachella marble-topped table, called Lumachella or ‘snail’ due to the abundance of fossil shells that make the stone so precious. Delicate pastel portraits of women hang on the walls, some by Giovanna Fratellini, a female painter at the Medici court (1666-1731).

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12. The Yellow Room

Once past the Boudoir, you find yourself in the Yellow Room, furnished in Egyptian style, with a Holy Family by the Caravaggesque painter Antiveduto Gramatica and an interesting portable mahogany desk decorated with gilded metal embellishments.

Plaques with female busts, butterflies and decorative handles on the drawers, curious turtles that struggle to support table legs are not the only odd things about this object, which hides a small masterpiece of engineering and craftsmanship within it.

Watch the video to see the desk opening or continue on to the other rooms.

The desk, created by Giovanni Socci in 1810, opens and widens through a system of interlocking, sliding backwards the top of the table, reveals a small desk extendable, secret drawers, additional floors and even space to house a chair, now lost! The side drawers also open, allowing the desk to get even more space and store items and documents.

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13. The Green Room, the Red Drawing Room and the Old Chapel

We continue on the tour to the new Green Room, the ancient Green Room and the Red Drawing Room, dominated by the portraits of Claudia de’ Medici, the work of the Medici court painter Justus Sustermans (1597-1681), and of Henrietta of England, Duchess of Orleans, painted by Henri and Charles Beaubrun.

From the drawing room, which overlooks the Italian garden, one can access the ancient chapel, with wall frescoes by Bernardino Poccetti (1548-1612) portraying saints in the niches and, on the vaulted ceiling, the Glory of the Holy Spirit among Angels painted by Cosimo Daddi (1575-1630). The frescoes were commissioned by Christina of Lorraine to pay homage to Florentine saints – John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence, and St. Cosmas, protector of the Medici with San Damiano – and the French saints, Louis and Francois, in memory of her origins. On the altar is a copy of the Madonna dell’Impannata by Raphael and a 15th-century Christ in wood, which arrived at La Petraia in the 18th century with the Lorraine. The sculpture, from the workshop of Benedetto da Maiano (1442-1497), has movable arms and legs for use as both a crucifix and in a lying position, for Christ laid out after deposition, on Good Friday. The work was used for private devotion and had been completely gilded. Restored in 2015, it has been given its original appearance.

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14. The Games Room

The Games Room, which overlooks the Italian garden and park, is one of the most unique rooms in the villa. 

Created by the Lorraine family shortly after the mid-19th century, the large room displays a number of games, but also has spacious and comfortable sofas and a very special chintz seat, which we see as soon as we enter the room, unmistakable for its double face-to-face seating positions and the ashtray in the centre, making it suitable for very intimate chats.
Vittorio Emanuele II kept the room for entertainment, bringing in new games, still there today, such as billiard tables, the inclined plane – ancestor of our pinball machine -, roulette, checkers and the game of Mea, a sort wheel of fortune fashionable in Venice as early as the 18th century. In the glass showcases are other entertainments enjoyed by the royal family and their guests, such as the Devil’s Stocking (the French Baguenaudier or Chinese Rings), Myriorama, a puzzle consisting of coloured cards depicting images, to be taken apart and put together again.
The room’s walls, covered with floral wallpaper, exhibit paintings of the 17th-century Florentine literary figures from the collection of Giovan Carlo de’ Medici: Semiramis by Matteo Rosselli (1578-1650), Artemisia and Erminia and the Shepherds by Francesco Curradi (1570-1661), Amphitryon on the Dolphin by Passignano (1559-1638) and Olindo and Sofronia delivered from Clorinda by Francesco Rustici (1592-1625).

Watch the video of the games table, or continue on to the Loggia di Levante.

By lifting up the green wooden top, we can explore the details of this interesting early 19th-century games table. While it may seem like a simple but refined board game table, the Italian version of English backgammon in ivory and mahogany with side inserts, a closer look reveals six wooden drawers on the sides of the table, three on each side. In each of the drawers is an engraved and inlaid panel with a different game for the entertainment of those sitting at the table who could then pull out a choice of entertainments! These were the game of Bastille, a sort of checkers, according to tradition, invented in the 18th century by a prisoner locked in the famous Parisian prison, Chinese checkers, Tic-tac-toe, the Game of Sheep and Wolves, the Yellow Dwarf (a card game) and dice.

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15. The Loggetta di Levante and the Dining Room

The tour ends with a view of the courtyard from the eastern Loggia, decorated with 17th-century frescoes depicting a river landscape attributed to Pandolfo Reschi and commissioned by Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici.

The loggia, which the Savoy family transformed into a sitting room in the 19th century, furnished with Empire-style chairs from the Villa di Poggio a Caiano, leads to the dining room, decidedly more austere and informal than the one on the ground floor. In fact, this room furnished with 19th-century furniture, portraits, some of the Medici, and Ginori porcelain for domestic use, such as ice cream makers, jars and tea cups, is more intimate, reflecting the room’s habitual domestic use. The rich wide carpet is the work of Girolamo Podestà, who signed and dated the work 1860 on the border.

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1. Introduction

The Garden of the Medici Villa La Petraia is part of the UNESCO series of sites “Medici Villas and Gardens in Tuscany” consisting of 12 villas and 2 gardens in the region, once properties of the Medici family.

From the mid-15th century, and the ensuing centuries, the Medici family gradually transformed their properties in the Mugello and environs of Florence from outposts for control of the territory and agricultural production centres to extra-urban villas, places for recreation, meditation, and leisure pastimes.
Closely connected to the villa, the layout of the Garden of Petraia follows a 16th-century model established by the Medici, with three terraced levels which take advantage of ground’s natural formation, with one terrace following the other. Starting from the bottom, we have the parterre level, the nursery terrace and finally the statue terrace. In the era of the Medici, citrus fruit groves grew on on all the levels. On the parterre were the so-called ‘cerchiate’, high hedges that formed tunnels and housed fruit trees; the nursery level, on the other hand, had a large basin where water was collected. Finally, on the terrace that is level with the Villa, later named the Piano della Figurina or statue terrace, dwarf fruit plants grew. Behind the villa was wildland, a wooded area transformed into a romantic English park in the 19th century. When the Medici dynasty died out, the subsequent owners made several changes to the garden, although the original structure has remained unaltered over time.

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2. The Villa and its owners (historical notes)

Around 1544, Cosimo I de‘ Medici bought the building, which he gave to his second son Ferdinando. On the death of Francesco, who succeeded Cosimo in ruling Tuscany, Ferdinando took power and began major renovations on the building, which was turned from a “palagio” into a princely country villa.

The villa was built around the 14th-century tower and courtyard, and dominates a large terraced garden that takes advantage of the stony land that lends its name to the villa.
At the end of the 16th century, Ferdinando and his wife Christina of Lorraine commissioned Cosimo Daddi to paint the frescoes on the main walls of the courtyard, depicting the feats of Godfrey of Bouillon, ancestor of Christina. In the 17th century, their son Don Lorenzo commissioned Volterrano to paint the other two walls with the Medici Glories. When the family line died out in 1739, the Lorraine became Grand Dukes of Tuscany and acquired Villa La Petraia. In 1788, Peter Leopold moved the fountain of Venus Fiorenza from the garden of the Castello villa to La Petraia, but most of the work on the property was done by the new rulers in the 19th century. It was Leopold II who commissioned the Bohemian Joseph Fritsch – who had already worked on the Pratolino park – to transform the wildland into a romantic park, with lakes and panoramic lookouts. After the unification of Italy and when Florence was made capital of the new Kingdom, Vittorio Emanuele II moved to Tuscany and acquired La Petraia, which his morganatic wife Rosa Vercellana, the beautiful Rosina, was very fond of. The engagement of the couple’s son, Emanuele Count of Mirafiori, to Blanche de Larderel was celebrated here on September 1, 1872. For the occasion, the sovereign commissioned important works, such as the covering over the courtyard with a glass and cast iron structure and its new flooring.

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3. The Statue Terrace

The portion of the garden to the east of the villa is called Piano della Figurina – the Statue Terrace – because, since 1788, the fountain of Venus Fiorenza, crowned by the statue portraying the goddess of love by Giambologna, has been installed here.

That year, in fact, Grand Duke Peter Leopold had the fountain’s marble section moved to La Petraia. The marble section was created around 1570 by Tribolo and his assistants Antonio Lorenzi and Pierino da Vinci for the garden of the nearby Villa di Castello. The bronze statue we see today is a copy of the original, moved inside the Villa to ensure better conservation.
The statue terrace is the highest portion of the garden and is level with the villa. In the Medici era, between the 16th and 18th centuries, no major changes were made to it until the arrival of the Savoy, after the unification of Italy. In 1872, in fact, Carlo Lasinio transformed the statue terrace as part of the larger renovation project that also involved the villa’s courtyard, adding features only partially preserved today but that we can imagine, and know also through the designs and drawings of the architect from Treviso and a historical photograph.
In addition to the Belvedere, which still exists, Lasinio installed two large covered pagoda aviaries to house rare and exotic birds, particularly appreciated by King Vittorio Emanuele II. The aviaries were elliptical in shape so that the birds could fly around, and inside them were shrubs and plants that recreated the natural habitat of the birds. There were also small octagonal cages with pagoda roofs to house other species of birds. Today, the statue terrace is one of the points of the villa from which it is possible to admire the surrounding landscape and see the red rooftops and domes of Florence in the distance.

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4. The Belvedere

In the corner of the garden, towards the south, is a delightful Belvedere that was built at the behest of Vittorio Emanuele II as a place for admiring the surrounding landscape – which must have been very different from today’s – after the exertions of hunting and the long rides he allowed himself when he was at La Petraia.

The little structure, also called a reposoir, was designed by the architect Carlo Lasinio in place of a previous “wooden shed” which at the time of the Lorraine was used as a camera oscura. Lasinio built a small pavilion but with all the comforts needed by a king in 1872, when the Statue Terrace was created. The date, in fact, can be read on the Venetian mosaic floor, identical to that of the Ballroom. In fact, 1872 was a year of great transformations in the villa, many made by Lasinio and the Turin architects Fabio Nuti and Giuseppe Giardi, who transformed the courtyard into an enclosed space. The Belvedere consists of a rectangular vestibule that allows access to the heart of the building, and an octagonal room with a pagoda roof, according to the 19th-century tastes. The large windows that allow natural light to filter in were refurbished according to the 1911 inventory. We can then see walnut consoles, decorated with the Savoy coat-of-arms and roses, an allusion to Rosa Vercellana, mirrors, a wooden table and other furnishings that recall the reigning house. There is a highly unique chair with a wrought iron back decorated with the Savoy coat-of-arms, placed near the round mid-19th century table with a base in woven metal. Only the curtains are modern although they replicate decorative floral motifs inspired by those described in 1911.

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5. The Piano del Vivaio or Nursery Terrace

We are here on the villa’s middle terrace, the nursery terrace, which takes its name from the large basin in the centre, where water was stored.

In fact, it was crucial to have water pools or basins to ensure that the whole garden was irrigated. The water system is still one of the most important technologies at the villa and was not only used for watering but also in the event that fountains with water features were installed in the garden. Moreover, freshwater fish that often ended up on the tables of the rulers were bred in these basins. Ferdinando I was very interested in botany and particularly appreciated the cultivation of medicinal plants and their pharmacological, therapeutic, and also culinary uses. In fact, the wealthiest families generally aimed at being self-sufficient in the cultivation of medicinal plants.
For this reason, next to the pool were two “secret” or private gardens where Ferdinando chose to create a personal officinal garden, specialised in rare and precious plants, which were then preserved and processed in the adjacent kitchen. The garden grew flowers, particularly bulbs, roses, medicinal and aromatic plants, as well as bizarre citrus fruits, and was used for meditation and research. In 1826, in keeping with the trend of exoticism and orientalism, the space to the right of the staircase was transformed into an exotic garden. A palm tree was planted at its centre and bordered by a stone wall. This interest in distant worlds was not only apparent in botany but also in furnishings and even clothing. In fact, it could happen that one was invited to drink tea in a Chinese porcelain service dressed in clothing from Beijing!
This terrace was last altered in 1833 when the tepidarium, a small greenhouse for the cultivation of exotic plants, was built on a design by Giovanni Pacini.

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6. The Lemon Houses and citrus fruit

Citrus fruits were a great passion for the Medici family. They were grown in espaliers against the walls of each terrace in the garden and in large terracotta pots placed at the ends of the flower beds.

It is no accident that one of the interpretations of the Medici coat of arms includes balls that are stylised oranges.
We do not know for sure when the cultivation of citrus fruits in Tuscany began, but certainly already in the 15th century there is a report of this interest, which was not only ornamental or botanical but also nutritional and medicinal. The Medici family soon began to boast the largest collections of citrus fruits in its villas. During the cold seasons, these potted plants were housed in the “vase room”, later renovated as a lemon house, where they are still stored in winter.
Their care requires constant commitment and continuous irrigation which in ancient times was done with a very complex system of pipes. Water from the Valcenni aqueduct, on Mount Morello, fed the rectangular tank on the nursery terrace from thirteen openings. From here the water flowed into three fountains in the parterre, of which only the central one under the staircase remains. In the lower garden, on the other hand, the water was distributed through underground terracotta pipes that carried small amounts of water into underground urns, which the gardeners could draw from without having to walk too far.
Some very unusual citrus species that date back to the Medici period are the bitter orange, the lumia, the Lanzichenecchi orange and Bizzaria oranges. Most of these fruits are found in the Giardino di Castello but from the lunette-shaped painting by Giusto Utens depicting La Petraia between the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century, we can hypothesise that the villa also had a “zinna di vacca”, a plant whose fruit resembles the shape of a cow’s udder.

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7. The parterre

Today, this part of the garden is different from what it must have been at the time of the Medici.

Once again, the lunette by Giusto Utens is a useful tool for understanding the changes made over the centuries by the various owners of the villa. In the 16th century, this area had two large circular pitches surrounded by curved pergolas covered with climbing evergreen shrubs, the “cerchiate”, a recurring feature of the Italian garden. These are proper tunnels of greenery that served, in addition to decoration, as places to take a pleasant walk in the shade, animated by the chirping of birds that built their nests in these branches, although they sometimes became regular hunting traps. Outside the cerchiate, fruit trees were grown in a “quincunx”, a Roman technique that staggered the distribution of plants, the way the dots are arranged in the 5 on dice. The dwarf fruit trees, which are still grown today, once allowed the ladies to stroll through the garden and pick the fruit without too much effort.
The elliptical shape the garden has today was realised in 1801, in the Napoleonic era, when the garden was opened to the public for the first time. These works to alter the green areas included the installation of the fountain we see in the centre, which is not present in the lunette by Utens.
The last modification was made in 1872 for the engagement of Emanuele di Mirafiori, when the flower beds closest to the staircase were planted with flowers of various colours which, once blossomed, would have mirrored the colours of the rainbow.

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8. A brief overview. The Italian garden

From this position we have an overview of the whole Italian garden with the impressive background of the villa and the romantic park behind it.

The Italian Garden is terraced on three levels: the parterre with the “cerchiate” or tunnels of greenery, then replaced by a single ellipse, the nursery terrace with the basin, the irrigation hub of the garden, flanked by the officinal or medicinal herb gardens, and the terrace at the villa level. Behind the formal garden was wildland, woods used for hunting, now a wonderful English park. But what is meant by an Italian or English garden?
The Italian Garden is terraced on three levels: the parterre with the “cerchiate” or tunnels of greenery, then replaced by a single ellipse, the nursery terrace with the basin, the irrigation hub of the garden, flanked by the officinal or medicinal herb gardens, and the terrace at the villa level. Behind the formal garden was wildland, woods used for hunting, now a wonderful English park. But what is meant by an Italian or English garden?
In the Italian style, perfect symmetry reigns, with harmony between all the botanical and architectural parts that compose it and which are part of a very specific project artificially created by man. Caves, fountains, “ragnaie” or bird-trapping woods, hedges, sculptures, cerchiate, green tunnels and labyrinths are the recurring features of these gardens and here their orderly and symmetrical arrangement reflects the order that Grand Duke Cosimo I gave to the city of Florence. In fact, it was Cosimo who commissioned the first Italian garden for the nearby Villa di Castello. Included in the Italian garden was wildland, a wooded area often used for hunting, with evergreen trees, another typical feature of these green spaces.
The English garden, on the other hand, appears to be natural and wild, with winding paths, often shaded by large trees that suddenly give way to an open clearing, with no symmetrical and parallel paths. In the English park, everything should seem natural, but in reality, and in this case too, it follows a very specific design. Sometimes there were ancient ruins or ruined sculptures scattered around these gardens, reflecting the romantic tastes of the time.

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