|Villa Petraia & Angelica (& a couple of dwarf pear trees)|
Among the numerous Villas, where varying members of the family lived during the centuries, such as Trebbio, Cafaggiolo, Artimino, Poggio a Caiano, etc., the Villa La Petraia is definitely the most easily accessible by foot from the train station or by bus from city center of Florence.
|The Garden in front of the Villa|
|Italian Garden, box hedges|
The Villas were once summer residences of the family. Some homes were hunting lodges, some pleasure palaces (where parties and fun and illicit sexual acts took place, often without the husband or the wife, if you know what I mean…). A couple of the Villas are famous for the unfortunate deaths of various members of the family. Yes, poisoning my friends, which was covered up in the 16th century as a so- called medical complication. There was also a murder by a jealous husband over his wife's extra-marital affairs and even a noose hanging to rid a Medici wife so the 'grieving' husband could soon marry his lover (of course, after the lover's husband was murdered too)! Indeed, there is allot of juicy soap opera material that abounds behind the ancient doors of these Villas!
In Italian we say "andare in villeggiatura" which means literally, "to go to the villa". In fact, in ancient times, only the most noble abandoned their towns in the hottest months of the year and lived in their countryside villas. Most Villas were built on top of hills and were beautifully frescoed inside and surrounded by marvelous gardens. Often these structures were built on the ruins of ancient castles, as we can see by observing their towers which were incorporated into the construction of the villa.
Villa Petraia was, at first, the property of the Brunelleschi family, then the Strozzi family, and then afterwards it was purchased by Cosimo I of the Medici family. In more recent times, as soon as the unification of Italy was accomplished in 1861, the King of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele lived here for a number of years.
|Bitter orange plants covered with mats for protection from the winter frost|
|Plane tree and dwarf fruit plants|
Inside Villa Petraia there is an interesting museum with original nineteenth-century furniture, including a great 'games' room including a large billiard table and card and roulette tables. The surrounding gardens once held about 400 species of citrus. Citrus fruits are linked to the myth of the garden as a paradise of eternal spring, as flower and fruit are present at the same time. Villa Petraia has a very important collection of ancient roses and an orchard of dwarf plants, which was a great rarity for the time. Originally there were also vineyards and olive groves, which unfortunately no longer survive today.
In the courtyard of the Villa there are 17th century frescoes which describe the glories of the Medici Family by Cosimo Daddi and Volterraneo. The room is now closed underneath a 19th century glass and iron roof with a large chandelier in amethyst crystal, which turned the original open air courtyard into a covered banquet hall for special gatherings. This is all mixed-in with a deer or two staring down at us from the walls. These creatures were the hunting trophies- a favorite pastime. Since these Villas were homes, it is also interesting to note how their interior spaces were adapted and changed through the centuries, also due to the varying personal tastes of the owners.
You have to imagine in your mind that the construction of these Villas was to create a sort of incredible microcosm- to create a paradise on earth of beauty and harmony.
Do not miss a visit!
- Post and photos by Angelica