On 23 June this year (2013) all twelve of Tuscany’s surviving Medici villas and two of their gardens were declared a UNESCO world heritage site. The beautiful villas built by the famous dynasty are largely located in the Arno valley. The most magnificent of these renaissance equivalents of the English country house is that at Poggio a Caiano with its surprizing frescoes by Pontormo and Allori.
If you go to the Firenze com’era museum (Museum of Florence as it was) in Florence you’ll be able to see the celebrated lunettes depicting all the original villas, painted by Giustus Utens.
(Palazzo di Seravezza)
The full list of today’s remaining villas and gardens is as follows:
Giardino di Boboli (Florence) and Giardino di Pratolino (Vaglia, Florence); V
Villa di Cafaggiolo (Barberino di Mugello), Villa Il Trebbio (San Piero a Sieve), Villa di Careggi (Florence), Villa Medici di Fiesole (Fiesole), Villa di Castello (Florence), Villa di Poggio a Caiano (Prato), Villa La Petraia (Florence), Villa di Cerreto Guidi (Florence), Palazzo di Seravezza (Lucca), Villa La Magia (Quarrata, Pistoia), Villa di Artimino (Carmignano, Prato) e Villa di Poggio Imperiale (Florence).
In this impressive list there is, however, a Medici villa which stands apart by its distance and indeed, is the only one located in Lucca province. This is the Palazzo di Seravezza situated in the municipality of Seravezza at the foot of the Apuan Alps and at the confluence of the Serra and Vezza rivers. The palazzo houses, in addition to the town’s Library and archives, the Museum of Popular Traditions of Historical Versilia. Next door to it are the Ducal Stables, restored in 2006, and now home to temporary exhibitions.
The villa was built by Cosimo I between 1560 and 1564, and the architect is either thought to be Ammannati, or Buontalenti.
The palazzo di Seravezza was originally built not so much as a summer retreat from the torrid heat of Florence, or to supply food produce and wine for the grand ducal household, but for strategic purposes. The area surrounding it was contended for centuries between the Republics of Pisa, Lucca, Florence and Genoa itself, and the villa’s compact shape with its musket and crossbow apertures on the ground floor could be easily defended as a military outpost.
I’m sure that the villa must have also served as a hunting lodge since the surrounding forests are rich in fauna like wild boars and roe-deer. When the times became more peaceful it was also a vacation home for the family of the dukes of Tuscany who also added a beautiful geometric garden which, alas, has not survived.
Among the guests who spent long periods there was the mistress and then second wife of Francesco I de ‘ Medici, Bianca Cappello, and Christina di Lorena, wife of grand duke Ferdinand I.
Seravezza also had another important strategic purpose since it was close to marble quarries and iron –ore and silver mines which the dukes wished to develop. There is also a rare type of marble called mistio or peach blossom or Breccia Seravezza which is still quarried.
With the death of the last Medici the villa passed to the Lorraine dynasty until, in 1864, the new Italian State took possession of it and handed it over to the town of Seravezza who first used it as a prison and then as its administrative headquarters,
Today Seravezza is home to the truly beautifully displayed and documented museum of local traditions and crafts. We were impressed by its layout and the helpfulness of the staff.
The museum was opened to the public in 1996 and documents work activities in the area and their historical development. Prime importance is given to the extraction of marble from the nearby quarries of Monte Altissimo (where Michelangelo got his raw material from) and this is illustrated by the exhibits of equipment used through the ages and the different techniques of excavation, transport and processing.
Poor oxen! There are also very interesting sections dedicated to iron-ore mining and metal processing.
Furthermore, there is a part containing exhibits related to domestic activities such as weaving, agriculture carpentry and leisure activities.
I thought the section on toys was particularly charming.
The museum is usually open throughout the year (except on Mondays, as is the case with most other museums in Italy) but it is worth checking beforehand as, unless you are already at Viareggio, it’s a relatively long way from this side of the Apuane to make a mistake!
Our photographs were taken in October 2005. How time flies…it seemed just yesterday that we were at this enjoyable and instructive villa-museum.
Address and contacts for museum are:
Address: Palazzo Mediceo, Via del Palazzo, 358