Touring the Medici Villas in Florence
A day trip to Villa di Castello and Villa la Petraia
1 km

No tour of Tuscany is complete without a visit to the Medici villas, a series of buildings and gardens that were owned by members of the Medici family between the XV - XVII centuries and have become UNESCO sites. Offering a cultural trip through sumptuous frescoed rooms and artworks, they’re also the perfect settings for a walk through greenery, surrounded by centuries of history. At about 7 km from the historic center of Florence, in an area beloved by the Medici on the slopes of Monte Morello, there are two villas open year round where you can experience a Renaissance journey.

The garden of Villa di Castello inside Botticelli’s Primavera
Villa Medicea di Castello garden
Villa Medicea di Castello garden - Credit: Stefano Casati

Villa di Castello became part of the Medici's properties in 1477 when Giovanni and Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici bought it from the della Stufa family. According to some theories, in 1478 Sandro Botticelli painted The Birth of Venus and La Primavera specifically to decorate this villa’s rooms;  the works were likely inspired by the plants and flowers that adorned the garden.

Thanks to a careful examination of Botticelli's Primavera, at the end of the 20th century it was possible to identify the species of flowers that characterize the meadows typical of the first Medici period and to reintroduce countless varieties of herbs and flowers. Today, wildflowers and narcissus blossom every spring over the fields of the Villa di Castello garden, offering an amazing floral show for visitors. In addition, for many years the garden has been home to one of the most ancient (and rare) collections of citrus plants. Almost 500 potted plants that live inside the Limonaia during winter are displayed every year around the garden from April to October. Don’t miss the opportunity to see the rare “bizzarrie”, a graft between the Florentine citron and the sour orange created by the Medici.

But the garden of Villa di Castello is also famous for its artistic works and its geometric structure. When Cosimo I became Duke of Florence in 1538, he asked Giorgio Vasari to restore the villa and commissioned the new garden project to Niccolò Tribolo. Cosimo I wanted to create a place of magnificence to be used as a political tool and a piece of propaganda. This is how the first Italian garden was created, with a geometric subdivision of the spaces decorated by sculptures and fountains. Among the most important artistic works of the Tribolo project is the fountain of Hercules and Antaeus, which shows how Cosimo, like Hercules, defeated his enemies through wisdom, and the animal grotto, a perfect simulation of a natural cave that gathers sculptural groups of animals in polychrome marble, representing Cosimo’s idea of universal harmony.

Check out more info about the garden of Villa di Castello here.



Exploring the Accademia della Crusca and one of the first dictionaries in the world

Since 1973 the Castello villa has been home to the Accademia della Crusca, one of the leading institutions in the field of research on the Italian language. The main accomplishment of the Academy is the Vocabulary, the first of the Italian language, and the second dictionary of a modern language. The innovative work, published for the first time in 1612, set standards both in Italy and abroad. It was considered innovative for its large number of citations and for the alphabetical order of its items, which later became customary for all dictionaries.

The Accademia della Crusca organizes guided tours by appointment every Wednesday and Thursday, and with no reservation required on the last Sunday of every month. During a guided tour of the villa, you would visit the Sala delle Pale, where the personal coats of arms of the Academy’s members are on display.



Villa la Petraia, the King of Italy’s favorite residence
Villa La Petraia
Villa La Petraia - Credit: Flavia Cori

If the gardens of Villa di Castello made you dream about Botticelli’s Primavera, Villa La Petraia will take you back in time to the king’s palace with its sumptuous frescoed interior courtyard and its elegantly furnished rooms.

The ancient castle with its tower, which existed as far back as  1362, was acquired by the Medici in 1530. Donated by Cosimo I to his son cardinal Ferdinando in 1568, it was enlarged and transformed into a villa by the latter Medici. During the rebuilding, a huge courtyard decorated with frescoes depicting the splendour of the Medici was created. In the 18th century, with the extinction of the Medici Dynasty, the villa passed to the Lorraine family and then with the unification of Italy, Petraia became one of the favorites residences of the king Vittorio Emanuele II di Savoia and his wife Rosa Vercelli. In the Savoy era, during the celebrations for the engagement of the son King Emanuele di Mirafiori to Blanche de Larderel, the courtyard was transformed into a ballroom with a glass and iron roof and a large chandelier.  You will be amazed by the beauty of this courtyard as soon as you enter the villa.

Villa la Petraia holds, among other things, two precious sculptures originally created to set up two fountains: the Venus-Fiorenza, a bronze sculpture by Giambologna that originally topped the ancient fountain in the Petraia’s garden, and the original sculpture of Ercole and Anteo created for the garden of Villa di Castello.

In addition, the villa is home to a famous cycle of 14 lunettes painted by the Flemish artist Giusto Utens between 1599 and 1603 on commission by Ferdinando I, depicting the Medici villas around Tuscany, a sort of “inventor” of various Medici properties.

Check out more info about Villa La Petraia here