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Villa La Pietraia: jewel above Florence

In early May 2014, the Medici’s Villa were declared World Heritage by Unesco. Several exhibition and conferences took places in the different villa’s with the main one held in Villa Petraia on Saturday 10th of May. In the Villa the Lunette painted by Justus Von Utens can now be seen.
For this reason we have decided to write some articles about the Medici’s Villa, which are not only important historical building but also have outstanding gardens outside. We start with Villa Petraia

The first information about the "Palagio" of Petraia dates back to 1364, when it belonged to the Brunelleschi family. In 1422, it was known to belong to the Strozzi family, who kept it until the half of the XVI century, when it was purchased by the Medici family. In 1566 Cosimo I decided to renovate the old Strozzi house for his son Ferdinando, who first became a cardinal and then the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1587.

Ferdinando's interest for the Petraia, and his love for gardens - already testified by the Villa Medici's park, in Rome - is represented by the idea to place the three terraces once upon another, in order to create a proper system facing the villa. The building's level lays on the upper terrace, and is surrounded on the eastern side by the so-called "Prato della Figurina" (The figurine's meadow) and on the western side by the "Prato dei Castagni" (the Chestnut tree meadow). The Figurine's meadow was named after the Fiorenza Fountain, by Tribolo (now placed inside the villa) moved here from Castello. Unfortunately, nothing remains of the two big bird-cages symmetrically placed at both sides of the Fiorenza Fountain in 1872, while from late XIX century, the arrangement of the small belvedere on the terrace's southern corner is still there. No trace of chestnut trees is left in the western meadow, which was named after these trees and is presently lacking of any kind of formal features.
Similarly, almost nothing is left of the huge Quercus ilex which used to host a belvedere terrace when the villa was the residence of Vittorio Emanuele II, king of Italy in late XIX century.
Two light staircases, supported by three decreasing arches, lead to the intermediate level. The decreasing height allows the sight to run through them without breaking the plan visual continuum. This level was called "fishpond", because of the rectangular pool. Originally, on the pool's hedge could be seen two sequences of three boxwood-hedged squares, presently defined by simple flowerbeds designs. The lower floor is wide and steep, with a "hippodrome-like" design, divided by big flowerbeds and parterres marked by boxwood hedges.

Because of the ground's steep slope is hard to appreciate the rhythm of the overall design. This was due to the previous setting, based upon two circles, secant with the villa's main axis and marked by radially disposed trees, and rounded pergolas. An elegant fountain underlines from the lower terrace's center, the main structure axis, corresponding to the fishpond and the villa's central part. The Valcenni's waterworks was purposely built by Tribolo, to supply water to the garden and, as an addition to another waterworks, the garden of Castello.
Notwithstanding the sizeable work, water is not a dominating element of the garden's structure.
Besides the two fountains already mentioned, only a third one is present in the garden, and it is placed at the villa's rear side; it is a big sponge-rock adjoining the wall, marking the square and dividing it from the romantic park stretching uphill.

This park was created thanks to Pietro Leopoldo II of Lorena, who in 1818 unified the wo properties of Castello and Petraia. A bohemian architect Joseph Frietsch was put in charge of the project, which was supposed to be in the English style. The project is based on the creation of a connecting lane between the two villas, sided by an elm double line (presently replaced on one side only, by Tilia trees).

Many paths depart from the main lane. They climb winding uphill, opening beautiful images of the Florentine plane and other picturesque views, siding water streams, lakes and framing pools, decoration elements and, sometime, flowerbeds. Vegetation is dominated by ilexes and cypresses (some of them are several century-old, and according to some Authors they can be dated back to the ancient Roman road to Florence); other species like red oaks, flowering ashes, pubescent oak, English oak and a wide variety of pine trees area also present.
The villa was inhabited until the end of the XIX century and it was the favorite residence first for the Medici, then for the Lorena and finally was the most preferred one for Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoy.
 

Recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is considered one of the most fascinating properties of the Medici family for the view it offers

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