Duration: 3 hours
Just outside Florence you have two of the 24 villas that the Medici built in Tuscany: Villa La Petraia and Villa di Castello. Originally as hunting lodges or a countryside alternative for the hectic city life, these buildings became centers of political power. Surrounded by lovely gardens, they are masterpieces of Renaissance architecture, filled with art collections and shows us how gardening was considered an art form in itself.
Villa La Petraia: In the year 1544 Cosimo I bought an old country house on the hills close to Sesto Fiorentino. Over the centuries this house became the impressive palace we see today. The inner courtyard covered at the end of the nineteenth century by a glass and metal structure, is fully decorated with frescoes depicting seminal moments in the life of the Medici. The decorations in the interior of the villa date back to the time when the Habsburgs ruled Tuscany and King Vittorio Emanuele II, the first King of Italy used it as his lodgings. In 1588 Ferdinand the 1st turned the rocky surroundings into a walled terrace garden on three levels. A typical Italian Renaissance garden with a dense forest,nurseries, water basins, geometrical flowerbeds and citrus trees in pots.
Villa di Castello: This villa used to belong to the secondary branch of the Medici family and was inherited by the parents of Cosimo I. The Villa is closed for visitors and today houses the Accademia della Cursca, the renowned institute of Italian language studies. The garden, designed by Vasari in the year 1538, became the prototype for all Medici gardens and European gardens during the Renaissance. In the lower part the fountains, decorated with statues and surrounded by antique busts, are set between the geometric flowerbeds with dwarf fruit trees. The citrus garden consists of almost 500 different species of old and unusual lemon trees. The Grotta del Diluvio with its waterworks is inhabited by animals of marble and bronze. The upper garden is a dense forest where a giant statue of the God Appenino towers over the pond.