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The Medici Legacy – Tuscan Villas

tuscany cooking vacationsThe Medici family built many villas in rural and city locations across Tuscany and in Rome between the 15th and 17th centuries. These complexes served many functions but most famously these were where they were able to demonstrate their power and rule over the lands. These were also the places where their owners built agricultural empires and where they lived and played. In 2013, the Medici villas were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

It is believed that the first such homes were the Villa el Trebbio and at Cafaggiolo. These were strongly fortified homes built sometime in the last 14th century in the Mugello region. Cosimo de’ Medici built villas designed by Michelozzo at Careggi and Fiesole that added the luxury of courtyards, balconies, and beautiful artist gardens.

Florence became the focal point for many of the Medici family homes. By the end of the 16th century, there were at least 16 major estates, with at least another 11 of secondary interest (mainly agricultural or owned by the Medici family for a short time), together with a constellation of farms and hunting lodges throughout Tuscany. Giusto Utens painted a series of lunettes depicting the main Medici villas in the 17th century, which are now held by the Museo di Firenze com’era.

The villas built in the later years and in the most active years of Medici rule , were outstanding examples of Renaissance and Baroque architecture, and were often accompanied by gardens. The garden at the Villa di Castello, created for Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, was the first in Italy by Niccolò Tribolo, who later designed the Boboli Gardens for Cosimo’s Florentine new residence, the Palazzo Pitti.

Almost every member of the Medici family at one time built or owned an estate in Tuscany. After the death of Gian Gastone de’ Medici in 1738, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Medici’s assets, including their villas, were acquired by Francis, Duke of Lorraine (later Holy Roman Emperor). Today, some of the Medici villas are museums; others are occupied by institutions, and a few are owned privately, and often hired privately or used to stage public events.

In addition to their country villas, the Medici also occupied the following buildings in Florence:

  • Palazzo Medici Riccardi (1444–1540, then used by less important members of the family until 1659)
  • Palazzo Vecchio (1540 – c.1560)
  • Palazzo Pitti (1550–1738)
  • Casino di San Marco