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Visit Poggio a Caiano
Poggio a Caiano is most visited for its highly renowned Medici Villa but the town itself also deserves to be explored when you visit: as well as the famous villa Poggio a Caiano has a large number of historic buildings of interest.
However it is likely to be at the Medici villa where your visit will start. We have given quite a lot of detail about the villa below, in particular of what the paintings and frescoes represent, because this will help you appreciate the Medici Villa better.
Medici villa in Poggio a Caiano
This Grand Ducal villa is on a hill on the shores of the river Ombrone and is one of the most beautiful villas in Tuscany. The building of the villa was due to Laurence the Magnificent who built the Medici Villa on the site of an ancient castle which once belonged to the powerful Cancellieri family of Pistoia. After 1420 it was bought by the Strozzi and finally by the Medici.
The Medici Villa you now see at Poggio a Caiano was rebuilt for Lorenzo de Medici to a design by Giuliano da Sangallo between 1485 and 1520, and it is a wonderful example of Renaissance architecture
The Medici Villa was the first villa to be built in the Renaissance style in Italy.
The exterior of the Villa has kept the original Renaissance plan by Sangallo although the two staircases leading to the terrace were built in the early 19th century to replace the original ones designed by Pasquale Poccianti.
When looking at the villa from the front you can see a colonnaded wall at ground level with a design based on that used in a classical temple. At first floor level (at the top of the exterior staircases) there is a large entrance loggia with a frieze in the classical style and a more simple symmetrical facade, and at roof level there is a clock that was added more recently.
The loggia is particularly interesting, and you can see the vaulted ceiling decorated with reliefs. On the right wall of the gallery is a decorative fresco depicting the sacrifice of Laocoon, by Filippino Lippi (1457-1504). The glazed frieze on the loggia represents the journey of the soul. This work has been subject to many interpretations, but in general we can say that it tells the Platonic myth of the history of the soul.
The interior of the villa has undergone several transformations over the years that have altered its original appearance. In the ground floor room you can visit the apartment of Bianca Cappello (1548-1587), wife of Francesco I (1541-1587). Also notable in this part of the building are the entrance hall, the billiard room and the 18th-century court theater.
On the first floor and in the center of the building is the hall of Pope Leo X which was probably completed around 1513. The pictorial decoration of the walls is by Andrea del Sarto (1486-1531), Pontormo (1494-1557), Franciabigio and Alessandro Allori (1535-1607).
The events represented on these walls are from Roman history, such as Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) receiving tribute from Egypt by Andrea del Sarto and Allori and the return of Cicero (106-43 BC) from exile (by Franciabigio and Allori). Allori also executed the frescoes depicting the consul Flaminius.
In the lunettes you can see mythological subjects such as the 'Garden of the Hesperides' by Allori and the allegory of 'Vertumnus and Pomona', by Pontormo. Other allegorical figures complement the decor of the room.
While on the first floor you can also visit the entrance hall, with works by Giuseppe Catani (1866-1945) that use themes celebrating the founding of the Villa, such as Lorenzo de Medici receiving the model of the Villa by Giuliano da Sangallo.
On the ceiling of this room is a large fresco by Antonio Domenico Gabbiani (1652-1726), representing the pacification of Cosimo the Elder (1389-1461), dating from 1698.
Associated buildings: close to the villa there are several associated buildings such as the chapel, where there is a Pieta with Saints Cosmas and Damian, painted in 1560 by Giorgio Vasari, the kitchens and a large neoclassical style room for plants by Poccianti (1825 approx).
Gardens: In the mid-16th century, under Cosimo I (1519-1574), Niccolo Tribolo re-arranged the gardens in English and Italian style, and he finished the construction of the stables around 1548. The gardens are decorated with rare plants and statues, such as a terracotta depicting the capture of the nymph Ambra by Ombrone as described by Lorenzo de Medici in his poem called “Ambra.”
Museums in the Medici Villa at Poggio a Caiano
The Museum of Still Life
Situated on the top floor of the Villa Medici at Poggio a Caiano, the museum houses about 200 paintings from the Medici family collection.
In particular there are many works by Bartolomeo Bimbi (1648-1730), a specialist in still life painting who worked almost exclusively for the Medici and who was commissioned to illustrate the collections of citrus crops and products of the Medici.
Among his most significant works are "The Plums" (1699). In addition to the works by Bimbi, the museum houses works by other Flemish and Italian painters who specialized in still life, such as Jan Brueghel (1568-1625).
Another prestigious museum in the Medici Villa is located on the first floor of the Medici Stables and dedicated to A. Soffici (1879-1964). This permanent exhibition traces the artist's painting process, influenced in Paris from 1907 by the main protagonists of the French school of painting, such as Picasso (1881-1973) and Braque (1882-1963).
You can finish your visit to Medici Villa with the "Barco", the game reserve. The perimeter wall, which originally stretched for fifty miles, was two meters high and contained a reserve of nearly 4000 acres available to hunt, with white deer, bears, wolves, foxes and wild boars.
Other highlights in and around Poggio a Caiano
Principal among the other monuments of interest at Poggio a Caiano are the churches at Bonistallo and Cerreto and the park of the Barco Reale, all located outside the town center.
Barco Reale Parc and the Church of San Francesco in Bonistallo
The Barco Reale park was created in the 16th century on the slopes of Bonistallo. From the top of the hill the views overlook the Church of San Francesco in Bonistallo, with a portico on three sides. The church interior has a Latin cross form and is in Late Baroque style, with fine oval stucco between the altars.
Among the paintings of interest here are the Lady of the Rosary (1623) by Matteo Rosselli (1578-1650), the Vision of Saint Francis (1777) by Fra Felice da Sambuca (1734-1790), and a Madonna and Child with Saints, by the school of Bilivert (1576-1644).
Church of Santa Cristina in Pilli
Also close to here is the ancient church of Santa Maria. The Church of Santa Cristina in Pilli has a portico that dates back as early as 1026, although it was rebuilt in the 13th century and has been restored several times since. Inside, at the chancel, there is a Renaissance ciborium of sandstone and a painting of the Martyrdom of Santa Cristina (1652) by Annibale Niccolai (1620-1693).
In a side altar you can see a fresco of the 'Madonna and Child, Saints and a Donor' by Francesco di Michele (c.1385) with reconstructions of the Renaissance style, while on a confessional of the 18th-century there is a triptych representing the Madonna and child between four saints.
Villa di Artimino
At nearby Artimino you can see the Villa di Artimino which shares some design characteristics with the Villa Medici but also has an uncountable number of chimneys (!) and now holds an Etruscan Archaeology Museum.
Local cookery traditions
It is no surprise that the local cuisine reflects the Poggio a Caiano hunting tradition. As a result in the local restaurants you will find traditional sausages and salami, and some typical dishes like the so-called "ribollita", bean soup, the "pappardelle" with duck and many other typical dishes of Tuscan tradition.
Learn more about the history of the villa and also the founding of the town itself at history of Poggio a Caiano.
Where is Poggio a Caiano?
The town of Poggio a Caiano is situated north-west of Florence in the Tuscany region of north-central Italy.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Tuscany guide.