Medici villas #2: Poggio a Caiano

Medici villas #2: Poggio a Caiano

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The construction of this medicean villa located between Florence, Prato and Pistoia was the whim of Lorenzo the Magnificent, thus he commissioned it to his favourite architect, Giuliano da Sangallo, at the end of the 15th century. A residence for the pure leisureliness of contemplation by the dynastic power, the villa of Poggio a Caiano recovers elements of the classic architecture such as the fronton and Ionic temple at the main facade. Due to the harmony and symmetry of its proportions, as for representing an ideal of life in the outskirts under Humanism, the site is listed World Heritage by the UNESCO since 2013. Walking the Parco all’inglese and the Giardino all’italiana is as stimulating as visiting its interior. Free entrance.
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Medici villas #1: La Petraia

Medici villas #1: La Petraia

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Perched on a hill top of Castello, with a panoramic view of Florence, this astonishing 14th century villa was first owned by the Brunelleschi family and the Strozzi, before being home to Cosimo I de’ Medici and his offsprings. It was also the favourite residence of Vittorio Emanuele II in the company of her lover Rosa Vercellana. Its significance has paved the way for restorations throughout the centuries, thus becoming declared UNESCO World Heritage in 2013 and an asset of the state museums today. Not to miss are the famous lunettes painted by Giusto Utens — each representing a Medici villa and garden —, the sculptures of Giambologna and a wander lost in its gardens. There is a guided tour in Italian every 30 minutes. Free entrance.

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The gates of Florence

The gates of Florence

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The gates of Florence were part of the city´s old defensive border. Sadly, the wall by the northern side of the Arno River was demolished in the 19th century so to pave the way for the main ring road. However, part of the wall located in Oltrarno, at the south side of the Arno, and other gates remain today: Porta San Gallo, Porta San Niccolò, Porta alla Croce, Porta San Frediano, Porta San Giorgio, Porta San Miniato and Porta al Prato. A stroll on a sunny afternoon from Porta San Giorgio to Porta San Miniato — with the ancient wall on one side and the terrific landscape of the Tuscan countryside on the other — is a must; feels like natural Prozac for the senses. …

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Gian Gastone de’ Medici, the last homosexual of the Medici dynasty

Gian Gastone de’ Medici, the last homosexual of the Medici dynasty

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The last sovereign ruler of the Medici dynasty, Gian Gastone (1671-1737), Grandson of Ferdinando II, reigned fourteen years – from 1723 to 1737. He was a lonely pubescent man who spent most of his time isolated in the Boboli Garden, concentrated in his studies on flowers and plants and his collection of dainty, delicate objects and things. It is said that because of his homosexuality, he was affected with a deep melancholy. He was the second in the hereditary line since the first soon of the Grand Duke was Ferdinando. When Ferdinando died without heirs in 1713, Gian Gastone inherited the throne. In 1697 and for alliances and dynasties reasons, Gian Gastone was forced to marry a German-Bohemian princess, Anna Maria Franziska. The matrimony was a calamity from the beginning due to the lack of comprehension combined with a high degree of repellency and depressed resignedness on part of Gian Gastone. The marriage had no children thus consequently the option of a Medici heir vanished.

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Cappelle Medicee: answered prayers in Florence

Cappelle Medicee: answered prayers in Florence

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Everyday, I get up and go to bed with the Cappelle Medicee. And it is not a metaphor. It’s the first thing I see when I open the windows in the morning and as I close them at night. Indeed, I appreciate this view. God has so many prayers to answer that I have decided just to refer mine to the Medici. The Medici chapel in the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence comprises two structures added to Brunelleschi’s original design. Currently, the chapel is one of the State´s museums of Florence as well as the burial place of the Medici family. Its Sagrestia Nuova was designed by Michelangelo. The opulent Cappella dei Principi, dedicated to the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, was raised in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and is completely covered with splendid coloured marbles. But unfortunately, and since I can remember, is still under restoration.
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Gardens of Florence #4: parco mediceo di Pratolino

Gardens of Florence #4: parco mediceo di Pratolino

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This monumental complex, property of the City of Florence, is included since 2013 in the Unesco World Heritage list. In addition to housing The Colossus of the Appenines, the work of Giambologna for which it is perhaps best known, the Medicean Park in Pratolino contains two Italian gardens and another one in romantic style due to modifications in the 19th century, when the property passed to the Lorena and later to the Demidoff. The Medicean villa of Pratolino was almost completely demolished in 1820 and its remains are now part of the villa Demidoff. The garden is also an ideal destination for lovers of trekking, wildlife and flora. The only downside is that, although the park is huge, many areas are fenced and no passage is allowed. On weekends it is full of families with (many) children. It is idyllic for a couple, as well as for a picnic with friends or simply a spot to enjoy alone, with some book and a cold beer.
Parco Mediceo di Pratolino, open from 10 am to 8 pm (until 6 pm on weekends) from the beginning of April to the end of October. Free entrance. Take bus 25 from piazza di San Marco up to the end of the route (25 minutes)

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Medici villas #3: Medicean villa di Castello – Accademia della Crusca

Medici villas #3: Medicean villa di Castello – Accademia della Crusca

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Like the villa of La Petraia, the villa medicea di Castello is in the hills of Castello, a few kilometres from Florence. Built in the 14th century and completely rebuilt in the 16th century, it is mostly famous for its gardens, which compete in splendour with those of Boboli. Also known as Villa Reale, L’Olmo or Il Vivaio, di Castello serves currently as the headquarters of the Accademia della Crusca, Italy’s most prestigious linguistic institution, so the visits are restricted and always subject to prior request. The gardens under management of the Polo Museale di Firenze, the institution in charge of the public museums of the province of Florence, are however more accessible. In addition to the gardens, another must-see is its library, the largest in the country regarding linguistics and history of the Italian language.
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Past and present of the “pensione” Annalena in Florence

Past and present of the “pensione” Annalena in Florence

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The story of Annalena (an orphan aristocrat adopted by Cosme de ‘Medici) and her palace is told in Niccolò Machiavelli´s Florentine Stories at the beginning of the 16th century. Her palace of Via Romana (a few steps from the Palazzo Pitti) was Cosme´s gift as she married Baldaccio di Bicci de ‘Medici. After Bicci´s murder, Annalena converted the building into a convent, to become later a casino, a luxury brothel, and finally, in 1919, a boarding house. Since then, it’s been the favourite of foreign travellers, musicians, poets, artists and actors, as Annalena displays through the furniture its splendid and decadent past. The Nobel Prize for literature Eugenio Montale used to stay here in the 30s; he shared “his room” with his lover when attending occasional meetings at the Crusca Academy in Florence. Prices depend on the season, so one double room with terrace could cost between 60 and 140 euros.
Hotel Annalena – Via Romana, 34, Florence, 50125, Italy

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Forte di Belvedere: refuge of the Medici and viewpoint of Florence

Forte di Belvedere: refuge of the Medici and viewpoint of Florence

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Built at the end of the 16th century by order of Fernando I de’ Medici, Forte Belvedere is the common name of the fortress of Santa Maria in San Giorgio del Belvedere, one of the two fortresses of Florence. This building is also a popular panoramic viewpoint and a valuable architectural site of the city. The final move of the grand ducal court from the Palazzo Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti undoubtedly influenced the decision to build the new fortress, near the wall surrounding the Boboli gardens adjacent to the Pitti Palace. In case of any danger, the prince and the court could quickly reach a fortified refuge from which they could still rule the city.

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The ubiquitous Medici escutcheon

The ubiquitous Medici escutcheon

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Contrary to the legend, the surname Medici has nothing to do with medical ancestors in the family, but with their move from the region of Mugello to Florence, back in the thirteen century, abandoning agriculture to devote themselves to financial life. The six red balls on the golden field of the coat of arms are not pills but bezants, a unit of weight from the Byzantine era used by merchants and medieval bankers to count. The mythical escutcheon is easily recognizable in any corner of Florence and when least expected.…

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