Some friends recently invited me to join them on a visit to the Villa Medici in Poggio a Caiano, about fifteen miles west of Florence. What an incredible surprise.
This makes for an easy day excursion from Florence city center, by train, to an historic palazzo and beautiful small village in Tuscany.
Read on. This gorgeous Renaissance palazzo contains some of the finest art commissioned by the Medici family; from the time of Cosimo the Elder to Lorenzo de Medici (Il Magnifico) to the Grand Dukes. An additional ‘treat’ is that admission is FREE.
It was in 1420 that Palla Strozzi began acquiring land and buildings from the Cancellieri, the office of the administration, in Florence. It is at this time we find the name Poggio a Caiano mentioned for the first time in a few historical documents next to the names of Bonistallo and Caiano.
In 1488 another famous Florentine family began to show an interest in the area when Giovanni Rucellai purchased the possessions, buildings and houses of Poggio a Caiano.
The history of the city, however, has remained tied to another, even more illustrious and celebrated family, that of the Medici.
By 1431 Cosimo dè Medici had bought six farms in the region. His grandson Lorenzo the Magnificent purchased more property in the area including all of the surrounding estates, began to build the Villa, initiated a complex project to contain flood waters by means of canals and stabilization of the banks of the Ombrone River and upgrading farming techniques on the estates north of the river.
In 1477, work began in earnest on what was to become the farm of Poggio a Caiano – Tavola. Many highly skilled craftsmen moved to Poggio a Caiano, including masons, carpenters, furniture makers and artists. This colony of skilled labor constituted the nucleus of the town that was born as a “factory” for the Villa.
Over time, Lorenzo and one of his sons who became Pope Leo X, commissioned artists as famous as Alori and Pontromo to create frescoes for the great rooms, especially the ballroom, of the villa.
The main ballroom, also referred to as the Room of Leo X, is a startling and unforgettable surprise.
Poggio’s location, between Florence and Pistoia, and the presence of the Villa Medici (which remained after the end of the Medici dynasty the summer home of first the Hapsburg-Lorraine and then of the House of Savoia-Italy’s first King used this palace as a country home after the unification of Italy) helped to maintain the prosperity of the small town.
Menerous rooms in many Medicean villas were filled with Still Life paintings; in Italian, Natura Morta. The Medici family was very passionate about cataloging the numerous varieties of vegetables and fruits grown in Tuscany.
These innumerable paintings have been collected in to one museum at the Villa Poggio a Caiano. You should absolutely be sure to reserve in advance your entrance time for this unique collection of art.
A dear friend, Carla Geri Camporesi and her co writer Barbara Golini, who used to live near Florence in Impruneta, wrote a cookbook featuring many of these paintings along with recipes of the time. Even though written in Italian, the quality of the photographs alone are worth adding this volume to your collection.
There is no charge to visit the collection of still life paintings, yet you must reserve with the villa directly to enter. Please see details below.
At the End of World War II:
During the retreat of the German army in August of 1944, the city of Poggio a Caiano was heavily damaged by artillery fire. Many lives were lost in the town. The villa became a refuge to villagers who hoped for protection inside the estate’s walls.
Manetti’s famous iron bridge, one of the best examples of an early 19th Century suspension bridge with cables made of iron, was destroyed by the German Army. Only the two large stone entrance towers for the bridge remain.
After the war, Poggio became one of the principal centers for the art of straw weaving (braids, hats, etc.), or paglia: many of you may remember the straw braided Chianti bottles of years ago.
Post-war development was culminated by the separation of Poggio a Caiano from the nearby city of Carmignano. The comune of Poggio a Caiano became its own separate city on July 14, 1962.
Camignano, a mostly agricultural community challenged by a textile economy, suffered from the general crisis felt throughout agriculture in Italy in the last part of the 20th century.
Poggio a Caiano, however, with its fortunate location between Prato, Pistoia and Florence increased its development in industry and handcrafts, eventually becoming part of the wool and textile industry centered in Prato.
Poggio a Caiano
Located about 20 minutes outside of Florence by train.
Trains to Signa depart regularly (generally at :16 and :53 past the hour) from the Santa Maria Novella station in Florence. The trip takes about eighteen minutes. Train fare, each way, is Euro 2.60 per person.
Taxi fare from the Signa train station to Poggio a Caiano averages Euro 18 per taxi. This is the easiest way to enjoy a day excursion from Florence without the hassle of driving, parking and possible fines!
If you are in the area for lunch, I highly recommend:
Il Falcone, Piazza XX Settembre, 35,Poggio a Caiano, Italy
Hours: (Closed Wednesdays)
Lunch 12.00 – 14.00
Dinner 19.30 – 21.30
Fabulous food, great service, warm atmosphere, fair prices and a very good wine list!
Villa Visiting Hours
8.15 – 16,30 (November – February)
8.15 – 17,30 (March and October)
8.15 – 18,30 (April, May and September)
8.15 – 19,30 (June – August)
Closed on the 2nd and 3rd Monday of each month, New Year’s Day, May 1st and Christmas Day.
PLEASE NOTE: To vist the Museum of Still Life (Naatura Morta) it is necessary to book an entrance time by calling the Museum office at +39.055.87.70.12
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