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Italian Villas I





Villa Medici



Commissioned about 1450 by Cosimo de Medici for his son Giovanni, design by Michelozzo Michelozzi. Actually built between 1458 and 1461. The foundations of the villa on the steep hillside contain, the cellars and stables, wine storage, oil presses, storage rooms for produce, and the servants quarters. Lorenzo de Medici is more closely associated with the villa. The terraced villa at Fiesole influenced subsequent Italian villas. The main garden structure and some parterres maintain the original design, the building interior does not

The Medici Villa at Fiesole is often praised for its location in relation to the local climate, and the view to the Arno valley and (city of) Florence. The villa is located about 5 km. outside of the old center of Florence. It is set into a hillside about 250 meters above the valley. Taking advantage of the southern exposure the villa steps down the hillside revealing a series of walls and terraces. The hillside setting is protected from the cold winter winds from the northeast by the remainder of the hill above. Cool summer breezes rise up the hill from the west.

The terraced plan for the villa is broken into three primary levels. The north terrace, which is the highest is composed of the house and the entrance space.

Note: The two other terraces, the pergola, the gate to the west terrace.

The next terrace in the sequence is down and to the south and is dominated by the pergola, which at its center gives access to the southernmost level. A stairway descends to the south terrace from the pergola and reveals the view and the wall of the upper terrace. The height difference between the uppermost terrace and the lowest terrace is about 12 meters. Within the terrace organization it is not possible to move from the entrance terrace to the lower terrace.

A pathway winds down the hillside creating the eastern link between the terraces. The terraces are also connected by a stairway through the inside of the house.

The third terrace, about halfway between the height of the north terrace and the height of the south terrace is located to the west of the house. This west terrace provides the most complete, or comprehensive view of Florence.

The geometry of the villa seems to suggest a mathematical relationship between the plan of the original house and the organization of the garden terraces. Spatially, parts of the terraced organization can be subdivided in equal square modules the size of the original house plan.

Summary of three important concepts at the Medici Villa at Fiesole:

1. The Villa Medici at Fiesole is one of the earliest examples of a villa in the country that was not associated with agriculture in the way the traditional farm of the period was. The Medici Villa was designed as a country residence, as a place to be removed from the city, physically and mentally, and as a place of luxury to exchange knowledge (something the scholars of the period would have come here to do).

2. The terraced organization of the villa upon the hillside. The poor accessibility of the steep hillside is overcome by the creation of terraces, that represent a comfortable relationship with the hillside as a balanced cut and fill.

3. The intended organization of the villa to take advantage of the local climate and views to the Arno Valley and Florence.



Villa Medici



The original villa building was built for cardinal Ricci by Annibale Lippi about 1540 on the site of an earlier villa, the Villa of Lucullus.

The Villa changed hands many times. In 1574, upon the death of Cardinal Ricci, the villa was sold to Cardinal Fernando de Medici. During Fernando de Medici’s ownership a large piece within the garden was added — a Bosco which was adorned with an artificial mountain.

The Villa organization is broken into three zones tied together by a central path running the length of the garden from north to south.

The northernmost zone is organized as a series of squares in an urban form, and contrasts highly to the southernmost zone with its indications of the country.

To the south, the bosco (or woods) and the artificial mountain recall a rural landscape. The spiral path leads around and up the mount to reveal a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape.

In the middle of those two zones is a more private zone associated with the house, containing a small piazza and parterre. It was originally intended for this zone to be screened from view on all sides.

initially, fountains were planned at the intersections of the main axes of the three zones, and decorative elements terminated the views of nearly every path.

Galileo lived at the Medici villa in Rome during the seventeenth century.





Villa D’Este

Tivoli (30 km. northeast of Rome)


The Villa D’Este was built by (the owner) Cardinal Ippolito d’Este II as one of the earliest villas in the hills near Rome. He was papal governor of Tivoli 1549 – Pirro Ligorio (the designer) – made ammendments to the house and laid out the gardens as a succession of terraces down a steep slope.

The residence at the Villa D’Este was originally a 13th century Franciscan monastery. The town of Tivoli had long been known for its clean air and abundance of water. Shortly after acquiring the monastery, Ippolito d’Este began to make changes to the villa complex. The site was filled, using the town walls for retaining, creating a terraced organization oriented to the northwest. An aqueduct and an underground canal from the river were built in order to insure an abundant supply of water for garden fountains planned by Pirro Ligorio. Changes to the building also occurred to create a more outwardly oriented organization, in contrast to the inward focus of the monastery.

The original entry to the villa was from below on the northern side of the garden through a gate on the main axis to the house. The lowest terrace is the first in the sequence and originally had a pergola which did not allow a view of the house.

In the drawing pay attention to (make note of) three important axes:

1. the main axis to the house

2. the cross axis of the fishponds

3. the cross axis of the avenue of the hundred fountains

From the reflecting fish ponds the house would have been seen, a view today that is disrupted by overgrown vegetation (tall cypresses and pines). The reflecting fish ponds create a second axis, a cross axis.

Water in the pools had its origin at the water organ high above,

through the cascades, and after flowing through the fish pools, out of the wall through the fountain of Neptune.

Terminating the physical axis (not the visual one) toward the house on the second terrace is the fountain of the dragon. The circular steps surrounding the fountain lead to the third terrace.

The third terrace confronts the visitor with the Avenue of the Hundred Fountains forcing movement in one direction or the other to continue up to the fourth terrace in front of the house. The avenue of the hundred fountains creates a third important axis within the organization.

At the eastern end of the axis the termination is marked by the fountain of Tivoli or the Oval Fountain.

On the west the axis is terminated by the fountain of the owl and the Rometta ( a miniature interpretation of Rome).

The two important cross axes are oriented the direction of Rome.








Bomarzo, Sacro Bosco

Near Viterbo


The owner at the time of construction was Vicino Orsini, all of the designers/sculptors, are not known for certain.

The Sacro Bosco is a garden of monsters, and an exception to the renaissance garden character. The spatial organization does not adhere to any geometric order, nor does the landscape contain a programmed iconography, as other renaissance gardens do.

The residence is located across a valley on a hilltop in a medieval castle, not immediately adjacent to or within the garden. From the castle only very small fragments of the garden are visible, likewise from the garden only bits of the castle are visible through the trees. The residence and the garden are only connected by gates that identify an axis across the valley.

The original entry to the garden was marked by two stone sphinxes on pedestals. After entering the garden one would pass by the ‘Leaning House’ located between the entrance gate and the ‘Love Theater’. The leaning house can be thought to represent a contrast to other renaissance gardens of the region.

The garden seems to have expanded without any predetermined plan. Many of the sculpted monsters were carved out of the existing rock outcroppings present on the site. The geology of the site, in that sense, set the garden order more than a thorough plan.


A sampling of spaces, temples and sculptures scattered through the woods:

Left – Roland and Amazone. Right – Pegasus fountain

Left – Urn and vase field. Right – Giant tortoise with lady fortune

Left – Boat-fountain with dolphins. Right – Isis-fountain with masks of Jupiter/Amon

Left – Harpy, pride of lions. Right – Temple

Left – Mask of madness. Right – Poseidon

Left – Hellmond, or hells gate.

There does not seem to be a common theme among the many creatures in the park, and they may in fact contradict one another. The Sacro Bosco may be understood as a criticism of other renaissance designs in Italy.

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