giovedì 25 giugno 2015

Hidden Jewels of Florence: Villa Demidoff and the Colossus

by Laura Tressel

When visiting Florence, it's easy to get swept up in the glory of the city center. There are so many fascinating things to see and learn about that the days go by in the blink of an eye, and you can hardly believe that between the rising of the sun and the setting, you saw the works of dozens of the world's most famous architects, artists, and sculptors. The city packs so much culture within a small area that it almost seems there can't be more outside of the center. But there is.

Print of Villa di Pratolino, the original buildings constructed for Francesco I. 

Beyond the boundaries of the ancient walls of the city, endless expanses of the Tuscan countryside hold  even more mystery and excitement. One of these places, only a short bus ride or drive away, is Villa Demidoff di Pratolino. The Villa is surrounded by a gorgeous park, and offers insight into the history of its past owners. Originally built by Francesco I de' Medici, the then Grand Duke of Tuscany, it was named Villa di Pratolino. The style was very structured, with flat grounds and symmetrical architectural details. After Francesco's death, the land passed through multiple possessions, from Grand Duke Ferdinand III to Leopold II, who then sold it to Prince Pavel Pavlovich Demidov. The Prince restored some of the deteriorating buildings, renaming it Villa Demidoff di Pratolino. Eventually, the park and Villa were bought by the province of Florence, which maintains it to the best of its abilities and opens it to visitors during the summer months.

Anything that is passed through different ownerships acquires various characteristics from each individual. This is also the case for Villa Demidoff. Though it is one place, it is filled with all kinds of different ponds, fields, caves, buildings, and sculptures that give it a sense of haphazard beauty. Perhaps the most particular contribution is the gigantic sculpture of Appennino, carved by Giambologna in 1580. This colossus rises above the waters of a manmade lake, seemingly dripping with the mud and clay from which it was born. Though worn down from hundreds of years exposed to the elements, you can still make out parts of the monster that the giant was wrestling when his creator carved him in stone. It is a magnificent piece of artwork that inspires wonder and curiosity.

The Colossus 
Past the colossus lie the grounds of the park, great open fields which create an overwhelming sense of freedom. The fields are framed by woods which are home to the wildlife of the region, including wild boars which might be seen exploring the edges of the park. Walking down the pathway you come to the Villa itself, sadly out of use but managing to keep some sense of regality with the history of its residents still present in the architecture. Throughout the grounds are various grottoes and caves guarded by "Danger!" signs, which warn visitors away from following their urge to explore the dark mysteries behind the overgrown foliage and carved entrances. Pathways cross the park in symmetrical lines and are lined by shade trees, connecting the various structures.

Villa Demidoff di Pratolino is full of wonders that differ drastically from those located in the historical center of Florence. The park offers a serene escape into greenery, and the fascination that comes from gazing up at the face of the colossus is worth the short bus trip out of town. By taking the ATAF bus 25A from Piazza San Marco, anyone can arrive at this hidden gem. It is the perfect place to spend a leisurely summer afternoon walking around the grounds and feeding your sense of imagination and exploration.
The grounds and structures of Villa Demidoff.

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