Fiesole - FirenzeAl centro di un’emozione
The villa is located almost opposite the Villa Medici and was built between 1911 and 1913. It was designed by Cecil Pinsent and Geoffry Scott for Charles Augustus Strong, a rich American fond of philosophy, who lived there until his death, in 1939.
The construction was erected on a steep field, named le Balze di Macciò.The garden arrangement began in 1914 and only Pinsent dealt with it as of 1917.Since the earthwork is long and narrow, open to the landscape, the space is optimised by creating long prospective axes in a succession of environments, from the orange garden, originally dedicated to citrus trees, to the winter garden, until one arrives at a small forest of holm oaks, at whose end bursts a cave with a mosaic-decorated fountain, coming up to a natural area of meadows and olive orchards.
Le Balze is especially rich in decorations such as mosaics, statues, plaster, all created by Pinsent himself.In 1979, Strong’s daughter, the Marchioness Margaret Rockefeller de Cuevas de Lorain, in order to observe her father’s last wish, that the location would remain a cultural centre, offered the villa to the Georgetown University of Washington D.C., which has since hosted there its students, during their stays in Italy.
This is one of the oldest villas that the Medici family owned. It is the best conserved of them all and the least known.It was built by Cosimo the Elder in the place of a dwelling owned by Niccolò Baldi. According to Giorgio Vasari, Cosimo’s son Giovanni had it rebuilt in 1450 by the family architect Michelozzo. Recent studies tend to rule his out, however, and attribute the design to Leon Battista Alberti. Giovanni Medici was very fond the arts and was very interested in architecture. It was he who, going against all the principles of the time, chose to rebuild it on a very steep slope.According to the town register, the villa was built between 1451 and 1457, and is a typical early Renaissance building with windows framed in pietra serena and a large loggia with a panoramic view. This villa is very different from earlier Medici ones. It no longer has a defence-military purpose so there are no towers, no raised walkways or moats. The loggias are a clear indication of openness towards the outside compared to the closed fortifications that defence would have required. The influence of Giovanni Medici can be seen in the marked reduction of the villa’s agricultural and productive capacity in favour of total orientation towards the kind of leisure activities that would stimulate the intellect. Indeed it was the first country residence to have a garden instead of a farm. The three garden terraces, held up by heavy supporting walls were designed by Michelozzo. Lorenzo il Magnifico became owner in 1469 and he spent much time here in the company of poets and men of letters of the Neo-Platonist academy such as Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola and Agnolo Poliziano. Inventories of the time list cypress trees, fruit trees, hedges, roses, orange trees etc. With the demise of the Medici family n the second half of the 17th Century the villa changed hands and in 1772 it was purchased by Lady Orford who revolutionised its lay out so that the rear of the building became its main entrance. Between the 19th and 20th Centuries, the villa went through its Anglo-American period with owners such as artist William Blundell Spence and then Lady Sybil Cutting, wife of writer Geoffrey Scott. The latter together with Cecil Pinsent restored the garden in the 15th Century style which is still visible today. It is spread over three terraces of different levels – the first at the same height as the villa’s piano nobile is reached along a cypress avenue and features large broad lawns. The second level is opposite the rear view of the villa and is the least modified part of the garden while the third level is aligned with the first and dates to Pinsent’s characteristically Italian transformation. To day Villa Medici is in the UNESCO World Heritage.
The Nieuwenkamp villa, built over a pre-existing country house that belonged to the Badia Fiesolana, was transformed into a stately home in the 19th Century. The name “Bishop’s Rest” comes from the pause that the bishops would take on the climb up to Fiesole.
Some parts of the villa date back to the 15th Century, a large gate surmounted by the coat of arms of the bishop gives access to this large building which, shielded by dark cypress trees and thick ancient walls, looks over the romantic garden.
In 1926 it became the home of the Dutch painter, engraver and architect Wynand Otto Jan Nieuwenkamp who became closely associated with this place. After travelling extensively in the Dutch Indies and done pilgrimages in Italy W.O.I.N. (the way he signed all his drawings) was won over by the climate and landscape and chose Fiesole to build what he called the Villa on the Hill. He spent twenty-five years attending personally to decorating the villa, also enlarging the park in an eclectic imaginative fashion. He produced two works on the subject, the first of which was illustrated with photographs and the second by splendid drawings of his own. It is one of the most successful examples of eclectic villa design in the whole of the Florence area, a style which became fashionable between the 19th and 20th Centuries, with continual references to traditional architecture but reorganised in a new, original manner.
The garden is a verdant scenario with a decadent allure where the original layout and ancient splendour can still be seen. Laid out on a slope over 4 hectares, the garden develops around a long central axis with a beautiful fountain and a stone pillar at its ends. An orchard and an iron pergola point to when the fruit and the grapevines were abundant. Fountains, statues and marble furniture are to be found all over the garden just as this versatile artist planned and realised. There are many objects and statues from the Orient which Nieuwenkamp collected during his travels – a bronze gong, a statue of Buddha, as well as large terracotta basins and oil jars from Impruneta.
This building was constructed in the late 1800s in neo-Medieval style in accordance with the fashion of the time and is an ideal reconstruction of the original, presumably thirteenth Century castle built on the very top of the hill – hence its name – from which the Del Manzecca family would sally forth to raid Florence.
It was razed to the ground by the Signoria of Florence in 1348. The remains of the castle were purchased by the Alessandris in the second half of the fifteenth Century and Niccolaio had the whole construction rebuilt with its characteristic crenellated wall, the tall, imposing tower, the stately home and the chapel.
Ownership changed over the centuries and renovation projects were embarked on that gave it the look of a proper fortress.
In 1921-2 the last owners, the Zamberletti family, entrusted the architect Castellucci with the project of renovating it in neo-Gothic style, creating the “armoury” and the interior decorations in stone. These, together with the prestigious furnishings, and decorations give character to the monumental rooms.
The castle has an internal courtyard sown with grass and kept shaded by ilexes and cypress trees while in addition to olives and meadows, the surroundings are rich in ilexes, oak and chestnut.
The origins of the castle are very old – indeed it is first mentioned in 1301. It was variously owned by the powerful Visdomini and Alessandri families. For no fewer than 800 years the castle was sold, or lost at cards among the most important families in Florence until its almost total destruction.
In 1840, its ruins caught the attention of a young English peer, John Temple Leader who, strolling through the hills of Fiesole, came across this picturesque pile of ruins which so fascinated him that he resolved to buy it and in twelve years he rebuilt it in the Gothic revival style. He entrusted the architect Fancelli, the son of his factor and the most renowned craftsmen, sculptors, stone masons and painters from Florence with the detailed reconstruction of the castle sticking closely to the medieval style.
Renovation not limited to the building but also the grounds; the slopes of the hill were replanted with rich undergrowth and plants that would flourish in stony ground. Temple Leader’s great merit was that he gave character to the landscape, replanting it with cypresses, pines and ilexes romantically sited in the more visible areas. He purchased the old Column quarry, so called because its stone was used to fashion the pillars in the Cappella dei Principi in San Lorenzo, transforming this natural basin into a small lake-pond.
Legend has it that the castle has secret passages, traps, mysterious chambers and other devilry which romantic imagination had attributed to the Middle Ages. Of all the stories imprisoned within these walls, Temple Leader loved the legend of Bianca, the White Lady, a beautiful young maiden wooed by many men but in love with the son of her family’s sworn enemy. Despite this, their love seemed set to conquer all until their wedding day when Bianca’s brothers slaughtered the future bridegroom on his way to marry his beloved. Still in here wedding gown, Bianca died of a broken heart and from that day on, her spirit flits within the castle walls protecting love of all kinds, especially the most difficult.
Built on top of a pre-existing 11th Century building, Villa I Tatti is today the seat of the Harvard University Centre for Italian Renaissance studies. After changing hands several times, it was purchased by historian and art critic Bernard Berenson in 1906. In 1909 Berenson gave Cecil Pinsent and Geoffrey Scott the task of transforming the house and garden. He bequeathed the villa and its magnificent terraced garden and his collection of books, photographs and objets d’art, 14th ,15th 16th Century, to Harvard University to establish a centre for the study of Italian Renaissance history and art.
The villa, the formal garden and the vast park have a splendid location and enjoy a spectacular view over Florence and towards Castel di Poggio. The place takes its name from a sixteenth Century spring that flows in a thick wood uphill from the villa and which by gravity supplies the water necessary to work the many fountains in the garden and park.
It is likely that the villa itself was built on top of Etruscan ruins, traces of which can be seen in the underground chambers and the immediate surroundings for example in the cyclopean walls which rise in the park. It was however subjected to a series of renovations and transformations before architect Giovannozzi gave it its present day look in the early twentieth Century.
The garden is built on three terraces that slope southwards and has a wooded parterre parallel to the villa. Presumably the first terrace dates to when the villa was built while, similar to other works in the park, the others were created firstly by Angelo Peyron and then by his son Paolo. Paolo Peyron indeed was the creator of the lake and the architectural and monumental structure above it. The prestigious statues that decorate the garden in the place of those which were destroyed during World War II come from the Venetian villas of the Brenta.
The hill got its name from the swans that would flock there. The people of Florence called them “ceceri” from cecio meaning chickpea or wart because of the excrescence on their beaks.
Since ancient times this was a place famed for its pietra serena quarries which were exploited for stone to be used in all the important buildings in Fiesole, the Roman theatre, the Etruscan tombs, the Badia fiesolana and the Cattedrale… and in the 15th Century by the great Florence artists such as Brunelleschi, Vasari, Michelangelo and Cellini for the prestigious monuments and commonplace articles.
A wealthy tradition of artisan and artistic workmanship began to grow around pietra serena or Fiesole stone that lasted long throughout history. Indeed from the Etruscans to the Romans, from the Middle Ages to the present day the quarries were not only the place where raw material was obtained but also the school and workshop where craftsmen were trained and where continuity of every aspect of tradition was assured. A history of art, a history of social relations and of local economy and “industrial archaeology” blend together in this unique place.
This area, which has now become a historical naturalist park, counts 19 quarries (the most important being Cava Braschi, Righi and Sarti) which have been in disuse since the early 1900s and cannot be visited. However, the visitors can see the remains of a number of drystone storerooms built by the stonemasons to store their tools and the hollowed stone – rain-water drainage channels made by the masons by inserting stone diagonally into the ground.
Previously, Montececeri was wholly bereft of vegetation because of the quarrying but now is almost wholly green because of the plant replacement project begun in 1929 by the forestry commission.
Montececeri, however is not only quarries and pietra serena, but also a Leonardo da Vinci location. Indeed it was from the top of the hill that Leonardo tested his flying machine in 1506. The characteristics of the location, presuming they are unchanged since then, would have been the most suited – there is a sheer drop at the rock walls of the Sarti quarry. Leonardo mentions “Monte Ceceri” and drew the profile of the hills around Florence in sheet 20v of the Codex of Madrid II.
Legend has it that Tommaso Masini aka Zoroastro da Peretola, a pupil of Leonardo’s in Milan and Florence tested the machine as mentioned in a note by Leonardo himself in the Codex of Flight.
“Il primo grande uccello effettuerà il primo volo lanciandosi dalla cima del monte Ceceri, riempiendo l'universo di stupore e tutte le scritture della sua grande fama, donando eterna gloria ai luoghi dov'è stato concepito”.
Villa di Maiano, the original owner’s residence of Fattoria di Maiano, is located among the beautiful hills between Fiesole and Settignano and is known to be one of the most remarkable villas in this area.
Once known as Palagio degli Alessandri, it was completely destroyed by a strong hurricane in 1467 which forced the owner Bartolomeo degli Alessandri to sell the large family homestead in order to cover the heavy debts to rebuild the house.
In the first half of the XVI century the house became property of the Sforza family and later on property of the Buonagrazia family. Then in 1546 the noble Pazzi family bought the Villa. The Pazzi family was able to carry on and hand down the glorious memory of the Villa, thanks to their illustrious ancestors like Alfonso de’ Pazzi, remembered as collaborator of the Accademia degli Umidi and the Accademia della Crusca, and Santa Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi. Born in the old “Palagio”, beatified in 1610 and canonized in 1669, she wrote impressive descriptions and personal memories of the Villa and its countryside.
After the death of Luigi Cosimo Pazzi, the noble branch of the Pazzi family became extinct in the XVIII century. The Villa passed on to the Gucci Tolomei, a rich textile merchant family from Siena until it was bought by Sir John Temple Leader in 1850. He purchased the Villa under a particular clause which read “with closed gates”, including all that was once contained in the historical dwelling.
Villa di Maiano soon became his preferred residence and business headquarters, as well as the very first step of a long and complex work of restoration which the rich and extravagant English politician extended to the surroundings and the nearby castle of Vincigliata. Under the supervision of Sir John Temple Leader, the architect Felice Francolini was appointed to the total renovation of the Villa with full respect to the medieval structure of the house.
One additional floor and a tower with a loggia, all in keeping with the gothic style and medieval architecture, were added to the Villa. In the inner part of the house Francolini transformed the old central courtyard into a large ball room in neorinascimental style, the majestic Sala degli Arazzi (Tapestries Room). Part of the magnificent fireplace characterizing this room was shown at the I Great Exhibition in London in 1851.
Upon Sir Temple Leader’s death in 1903, all his properties passed to his great nephew Richard Bethell Lord Westbury, who sold the Villa to Professor Teodoro Stori, a famous Florentine surgeon. His wife, Elisabetta Corsini, devoted herself with love and passion to the maintenance of the historical dwelling, the same love and passion that the current owner, her niece Countess Lucrezia Miari Fulcis dei Principi Corsini inherited together with the Villa.
Rete di Imprese
Via di Baccano 4, 50014 Fiesole (FI)
Telefono +39 055 5978381