Villa Peyron, Fiesole

Oh, Villa Peyron!  How lovely you are, sitting in your pretty setting high above Florence!

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Situated in a beautiful position up in the hills around Fiesole, one can view both Florence and Castel di Poggio from the Villa.

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The Villa Peyron is a large complex, with buildings, formal gardens, and the surrounding olive groves. The villa is located in the woods named Il Bosco di Fonte Lucente, named after a spring above the villa

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The spring is said to supply the water necessary to work the many fountains in the garden and park, although I will say that the fountains weren’t working when I was there recently. Even without the fountains, the gardens are beautiful.

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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 in the immediate surroundings; there are, for example, antique stones in the walls found in the forests around the villa.

The garden is built on three terraces that slope southwards and has a wooded parterre parallel to the villa.

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What we see today bears nothing harking back to the Etruscans, but of course the villa has been subjected to a series of renovations and transformations over many centuries.

In the late 19th century, the Florentine architect, Ugo Giovannozzi (1876-1957), gave the villa its current appearance, working for Peyron family members who envisioned a very grand villa.

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There’s a lot of statuary placed throughout the villa grounds; these sculptures come from the Venetian villas of the Brenta. These prestigious works were installed to take the place of those which were destroyed during World War II.

 

 

In fact, a plaque is installed on a building near the entrance to the villa grounds, which speaks to the horrors of war.  During WWII, the villa was requisitioned by the high German command. Later it was occupied by the Allies who also installed a military hospital there. (I can’t help thinking of the film, The English Patient.)

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You might say that some of the minor horrors of war were even clearly imprinted on this villa. When Paolo Peyron returned to his home after the war, it was a very bittersweet homecoming: all the objects that  Peyron had tried to save by hiding them in a room in the farmhouse were destroyed and scattered in the garden. Paintings and gilded frames were mockingly attached to olive trees; furniture was smashed; rare books, incunabula and prints of Piranesi, inherited from his father’s library, lay on the ground in the open, irremediably spoiled by the rain.

And now I will stop talking and simply place the photos of this beautiful locale on my post.  Enjoy!

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This gorgeous villa, open for visits, lies just beyond Fiesole.  It’s an easy trip by Ataf bus (#7) from Florence to Fiesole, and catch a connecting bus #47.  The #47 is unreliable (it has only 3 runs on Sundays, for example, and they are all in the morning).  But you can do what I did, and take a taxi to the Villa from Fiesole.

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Fortezza da Basso, Firenze

The Fortezza da basso is a key Florentine monument, but it is almost always overlooked because, let’s face it, it ain’t pretty.  Loving the history of Florence, I jumped at a recent opportunity to tour the inside of the fortress.  I’ll talk about that below.

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The fort’s purpose was not to enchant or entertain, as were so many key monuments built from the medieval period moving forward. The fort’s purpose was to protect the city by blocking and intimidating any evil-doers who might be planning to take Florence in a coup of some sort. And this meant both from without and from within the city.

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The fort served these functions well, and Florence was never attacked after it was built.   Of course, the fort wasn’t the only reason Florence was left alone.  But the huge benefit of that fact is that the fort is largely intact for us to study and admire.

Today the imposing fort has a much softer, more elegant use; I’ll talk about that later.

In the following picture,  you see one of the fort’s 5 entrances, the Porta Sta. Maria Novella, which is where I entered to begin my guided tour.

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The official name is Fortezza di San Giovanni Battista (Saint John the Baptist, who was/is the patron saint of Florence). The more common name, Fortezza da basso, means in English “the fortress from below,” which indicates that the fort has a counterpart higher up.  And, indeed it does: the Forte di Belvedere (fort with a beautiful view) sits high up on a hill to the south of Florence. You can see the location and relationship of both forts here:

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The fort is a very impressive military construction with tall, thick and strong walls,  dominated by a gloomy, massive tower. The tower here is not like those that are found on other major Florentine buildings. Towers were usually quite tall, and the fort’s tower is relatively short and squat.

The Fortezza appears like a cyclopic building with powerful bastions bristling with turrets, and full of narrow walkways, parapet walks and secret passages. The massive, extensive walls surrounding the fort are occasionally relieved with projecting stone ashlars, some of which are accented with round discs.

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It is theorized that these discs might be a reference to the Medici coat-of-arms, with the 5 balls.

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The sophisticated military construction of the fort is a splendid example of the celebrated fortresses built by the Sangallo family. Florence’s Fortezza da Basso was built in record time in 1534, after the return to power in Florence of the Medici family after the dramatic seige of 1529-30.

The Fortezza was designed by Antonio da Sangallo the younger, with the help of Pierfranceco da Viterbo, for Alessandro de’ Medici, the Duke of Florence. And, while it might not be the most beautiful structure in Florence, it is the largest historical monument in the city.

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The Fortress, which was inserted into the 14th-century walls of Florence, was built under the growing threat of turbulent political upheavals. It was one of the very first Italian “citadels” and seems rather to have been built as a protection against the city’s inhabitants than from its external enemies.

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View of the bastions of the Fortezza da Basso

 

Here are some of my pictures from within the walls of the fortress and leading up to the watch tower on the south side of the former military base:

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Below are the stairs that lead up to the watch tower:

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The next 3 pictures are taken from inside the tower:

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And here are the views of Florence as seen from inside the watch tower:

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Once again, I was struck by just how small the city really is.  It is so obvious from way up high (not that this tower is that tall); the domes of San Lorenzo and the Duomo seem just a stone’s throw away.

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The guided tour of the tower was an incredible treat, but perhaps even more amazing was the fact that we also got to go under the fortifications of the south wall.  This Florentine fortress has its secrets and its curiosities. The most important ‘mystery’, yet to be verified and fully discovered, is a gallery which allegedly runs along the perimeter.  There is also the tunnel in a state of partial abandonment, which was used by defenders to counter enemy attacks. Legend has it that there is a secret passage from the gallery of Fortezza da Basso that crosses the city underground and leads to the Forte di Belvedere. Who knows, but I find that idea to be ludicrous.

As a part of my guided tour, we got to visit the tunnels below.  This is an amazing fact; almost no one in the general public has seen this area. Here are my photos from our tour down below:

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The next 2 pix are looking up from the tunnel to light shafts:

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Another interesting curiosity about the fortress has to do with the later Grand Duke, Pietro Leopoldo, who knew about the American scientist, Benjamin Franklin, and his  theories. This duke and Franklin were contemporaries. Franklin’s studies made a huge contribution to the study of meteorology and electricity, and his invention of the lightning rod was noted by the duke. Not surprisingly, the Grand Duke wanted to protect his buildings in Europe, and in particular those with major stores of gunpowder. So he used Franklin’s recommendations and installed lightening rods.

Since 1967, Fortezza da Basso has been used as an exhibition center and, as such, it hosts a large number of Florence trade shows and conferences. The former military base is spread out over about 100,000 square meters, and about half of them are covered.

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Nowadays the Fortress is used for all of the most important Florentine exhibitions and fairs (from Pitti Immagine to the International Exchange of Congress Tourism, Florence Gift Mart to Eurocamper, the International Exhibition of Crafts to Prato Expo, etc.).
Built on three floors, the modern pavilion that is usually used for these events was designed by architect Pierluigi Spadolini and inaugurated in 1977. Standing in the center of the great square inside the Fortress, the Pavilion is surrounded by ancient buildings that are gradually being restored: the Theatrino Lorenese, the Palazzo delle Nazioni, the Arsenal. Also, ever since the 1966 flood, the large buildings on the southern side have hosted the restoration Laboratories of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure.

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If Florence were on the sea

From a vintage set of postcards showing landmark architecture in Firenze, as if each structure was on a waterfront.  The postcards date to sometime before the postwar period:

 

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Landmarks named include, above, the church of Orsanmichele

 

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Piazza del Duomo

 

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Above, the Palazzo delle Poste, the modern post office building

 

 

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The Palazzo Pitti

 

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The Duomo, aka, Santa Maria del Fiore

 

 

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The Piazza della Signoria

 

 

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Above the Loggia dell’Orcagna (misspelled on the postcard as loggia dell’Orgagna); aka Loggia dei Lanzi

 

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The Piazzale Michelangelo

 

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The Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, name changed to Piazza della Repubblica sometime after WWII.

Villa la Quiete, Firenze

I recently visited, on a lovely parcel of land just outside of beautiful Firenze, a once-magnificent villa known as Villa la Quiete. Located upon the Castello hill, at the foot of the Monte Morello, this villa is considered to be among the most important settings of its kind.  It takes its name from a fresco by Giovanni da San Giovanni entitled, La Quiete, which dominates the winds (see below).

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The Medici family particularly loved this area and owned some of its most beautiful residences, including the Villa di Careggi, Villa di Castello, and the Villa della Petraia. You can locate Villa la Quiete on these 2 Google Earth slides below and, in the last one, also locate the 3 Medici villas just mentioned.

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This parcel of land has lots of history, naturally.  In 1438 it was given by the Florentine Republic to the condottiere Niccola da Tolentino, for his military services. In 1453 the Medici acquired the land, and later Cosimo I passed it to the commander of the Order of Santo Stefano.

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In 1627 the property was again acquired by a Medici, this time by Cristina di Lorena.  She had the palazzo rebuilt, and had a suspended passage constructed (a small variant of the Vasari Corridor), connecting the villa to a nearby Camaldolese monastery.  Cristina also commissioned the painting of la quiete che pacifica i venti, by Giovanni da San Giovanni in 1632.

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Cristina’s name even appears in another fresco, by Giovanni da San Giovani. in which curious anagram masquerading as a hymn inscribed on a scroll supported by putti in flight.

The villa has, thereafter, been known as Villa la Quiete.

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The complex was bequeathed to Cristina’s grandson, the Grand Duke Ferdinando II. Later on, in 1650, the villa was sold to Eleonora Ramirez de Montalvo, who dedicated it as a country retreat for a congregation she founded, the Montalves.  At that time the villa was called Istituto della Quiete.

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After Eleonora’s death, her friend the Grand Duchess Vittoria della Rovere administered the Institute, and sponsored the construction of the Montalve church, completed in 1688.

Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, the last descendant of the Medici family, resided in the villa between 1720 and 1730 and she furnished it with objects from the Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti.

Anna Maria had the villa renovated and redecorated and she installed a beautiful grand garden, bringing water to it by a pipe to the nearby Fonte delle Lepricine.

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The director of this new, vast garden was the botanist Sebastiano Rapi, who just happened to be the person in charge of the Giardino Boboli.  Rapi, with the support of Anna Maria, brought the best botanical and fruit species from the various Medici villas.

Even today, the specimen magnolia trees they selected still grow in a courtyard connecting the garden to the palazzo.

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The garden today remains one of the rare examples of an 18th-century garden, with no changes in the plantings, other than refreshing them.  You can see the layout of the formal, rectangular gardens, lined with pots of lemon trees, in the Google slide:

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The secular order of Montalve, dedicated to the education of girls of good family, only had to abandon their church of San Jacopo di Ripoli in 1886, and they brought their numerous furnishings and works of art with them to the Villa la Quiete.

It was only in 1937 that the order became religious. The villa complex remained for a long time the seat of the education institute, ending only in 1992. The last pupil graduated in 2001.

In February 1992 the villa, together with the entire real estate of the Conservatory of the Montalve alla Quiete, passed University of Florence. A small part of the villa has been used by the University for the Center for Culture for Foreigners and Polo offices. 

It is possible to visit the villa, as I did, only by appointment and in the months of July and August on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. To arrange a visit, contact the Ufficio Servizi Didattico Divulgativi, Sistema Museale D’Ateneo, tel 055-2756444 or by email to edumsn@unifi.it.
In a few days I will be writing a post about the artworks located in the villa.

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