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 Nicolà² 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.
The villa was rebuilt for Lorenzo by Giuliano da Sangallo in 1480. The front has a very interesting glazed terra-cotta frieze by Andrea Sansovino (a copy - the original is displayed inside the villa). The has villa been altered several times over the centuries, with mixed results depending on what guide book you read. Most critics seem to think the curving double staircase (added by Poccianti around 1802) in front was a success - I agree. The villas is surrounded by gardens (the gardens were much more extensive in the past) which seem to be under restoration at the moment. In the woods behind the villa towards the river there is an interesting "wall" that seems to be decorated as a backdrop for a stage (see image) - I couldn't find any information about that anywhere.
"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." 1 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. 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 the 2nd and 3rd Monday of each month, New Year's Day, May 1st and Christmas Day. Although guide books 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. You can get CAP and COPIT buses for Poggio a Caiano from largo Alinari CAP bus station (near Santa Maria Novella train station). Contact the Villa directly at Tel: 39 055 877012 or 39 055 2388722, Fax: 39 055 2388699
Notes: (1) The Poggio a Caiano Comune website has a lot of good information about the town and the villa.