Medici Villa at Poggio a Caiano
Poggio a Caiano is a former Medici villa at the foot of the Albano hills. It is on record as being the only surviving architectural structure commissioned by Lorenzo the Magnificent, and became a favorite of his that was used by the family dynasty for centuries. It was also one of the favored summer residences of the grand duchess of Tuscany Elisa Baciocchi Buonaparte, Napoleon's sister, and the possible site of her affair with Nicolà Paganini, who gave concerts in the Villa's theater. It was eventually a summer residence of King Victor Emmanuele II before being turned over to the state.
If you head out to Poggio a Caiano on a day trip from Florence, don't miss the nearby town of Carmignano, especially if you are a wine lover. The area was the first in Italy to plant French varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and has been a wine region since Roman times.
The Villa was a required stop for all of the newly married Grand Duchesses, and it was here they would receive the homage of the Florentine nobility before being brought to the city, as in the case of Giovanna d'Austria, the first wife of Francesco I and of Christina di Lorena, wife of Ferdinando I. In fact the day we were there we saw several newlywed couples taking wedding photos, so this is obvioulsy another long standing Italian tradition with deep roots.
Also in the Villa, in 1587, Francesco I and his second wife, Bianca Cappello, died - some reports say one day after the other - some say the same day - from a mysterious illness, perhaps a poisoning or maybe a virus. Bianca was outcast from Florence by Francesco I first wife.
The highlight of the visit is the first floor Salone Leo X with some fine frescoes by Andrea del Sarto, Franciabigio, Alessandro Allori, and Pontormo. The Pontormo lunette is particulary beautiful and was recently restored, but a little hard to appreciate since it is so high up - the room is barrel valuted and double height. The theme is Vertumnus and Ponoma. In one of the adjoining rooms off the dining hall there are also several large scale portraits of the later Medici clan by Sustermans that don't seem to be mentioned in any books or websites.
The villa is located in the little town of Poggio a Caiano, less than 20 km from Florence in the direction of Pistoia, and makes a great day trip from Florence. Admission is free. Hours vary by season but the villa and gardens are opened year round from about 9:00 to 6:00, closing earlier (3:30 PM) in the winter months. Closed on Mondays, New Year's Day, May 1st and Christmas Day. Although guide books and their website mention a compulsory tour, we were left to wander around without instruction but followed by several staff. There was also no additional material available about the Villa.
Here is a very informative video explaining the history and architectural importance of Poggio a Caiano.
Here is the Medici Villa at Poggio a Caiano on the map: