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Villa Demidoff, A Medici Villa

A brief history

Villa Demidoff is the current name of the ancient Medicean Paggeria of Pratolino. Located on the Florentine hills along the Via Bolognese heading into the Mugello valley, the estate in Pratolino was bought by Francesco I de' Medici in 1568.

Legend has it that Francesco bought it as a gift for his second wife Bianca Cappello with the idea of turning it into a fairy-tale property. The architect chosen to build the villa and turn this wild area into a dreamy place was Bernardo Buontalenti. He built a splendid Renaissance villa, which unfortunately is no longer in existence, surrounded by a wonderland park with water fountains and grottoes, beautiful gardens filled with exquisite plants and flowers. It was a small Versailles in Florence, a theater of delights, of magnificence and leisure.

The Park of Pratolino was the largest of the estates of the Medici family, as shown in a detailed view of the Villa by Giusto Utens at the Firenze Com'era Museum. It used to have a large Italian Renaissance garden, about 20 hectares wide, with a northern entrance in front of The Fountain of Jupiter. Within the park there were large stables, also used by travelers going along Via Bolognese.

When Francesco and Bianca suddenly died the park and the villa were abandoned by the Medici. It was Granduke Ferdinand III of Lorraine that brought back the park to new life. The Medicean villa was unfortunately destroyed and the park turned into a romantic garden, typical for that age.

View of the park in Utens painting

In 1872 the park was sold to the Russian Prince Paolo II Demidoff, who restored the buildings within the property and enlarged one of the remaining outer structures into a villa that then took his name. The park was renovated, the layout remaining today. After 100 years, in 1981, the Florence Province Council bought the property to turn it into a public park.

The Park of Pratolino today

The Park of Pratolino is one of the most beautiful parks in Florence surroundings. Even though the ancient Medicean villa and park has been destroyed, with just few monuments from that era remaining, it is easy to imagine its beauty and charm.

Among the monuments dating back to the Renaissance there is the massive statue of the Colossus of the Apennines by Giambologna (1579-80). The Apennines is made of stone and brick and had at one time grottoes decorated with frescoes and beautiful geometric decorations on the inside. The beautiful Chapel of Buontalenti has an hexagonal plan with a loggia; in the back, the last Demidoff princess has her final resting place. Then there are the Cupid's Grotto by Buontaltenti and the Fountain of Mugnone with Giambologna's statue.

There are also the Maschera Fishpond used as pool for hot baths, the large aviary and the impressive Fountain of Jupiter that used to be at the entrance into the Medicean park. Together with the neoclassical Lodge of Montili, these monuments can be visited only upon request. Guided tours, even during the week, can be booked by directly calling the park.

The park is a significant natural reserve, both for local flora and fauna. Within you'll find several centuries-old trees such as oaks, English oaks, cedars and conker trees and on a quiet stroll through the paths further away from the buildings it is easy to sight a few deer, foxes and hares in the vegetation before they quickly run away.

Today, the park of Pratolino is open to the public during weekends and holidays. Because of important restoration projects, only the central area of the park is generally accessible but other areas can still be visited by calling and booking ahead of time. Visits in this way can also be done during the week, all at no cost. We hope you enjoy visiting and exploring the park, taken a moment to imagine how it all was back in the time of the Medici.

How to get there

You can easily reach Pratolino from Florence (about 11km from the center) with your own car or by bus.

If you're driving, head to Piazza della Libertà; once there, follow road signs to "Ponterosso - Via Bolognese" and head uphill. The Via Bolognese, also the SS65 road, leads you out of Florence through the outskirts of Lastra, Trespiano, Pian di S. Bartolo and Montorsoli to arrive in Pratolino. You'll see a parking lot on the left as you arrive in Pratolino, turn and park there - the entrance to the park is right across the road.

If you're in Florence without a car, you can also get to Pratolino by bus: take ATAF bus #25A from Piazza San Marco - the "A" is important because otherwise it stops before you reach Pratolino in Pian di S. Bartolo and you'll not get to Pratolino, at least not on that bus... you'll have to get off and wait for the next 25A bus to pass by to take you the rest of the way. SITA also offers service to Pratolino from the main stop in SMN Piazza Stazione and CAP with stop on Via Nazionale in Florence. The ATAF bus stop in Pratolino is a little beyond the park entrance but it isn't far to walk back toward the park.

View more photos of the Pratolino Park & Villa Demidoff! »

Author: Lourdes Flores

I'm from California but have called Florence my home for over a decade. I love to explore Italy; it is a lot of fun to try to see everything like I'm seeing it for the first time, keeping you, our readers, always in mind. I enjoy sharing what I know and helping others as they make their travel plans for Tuscany through our Forum. If you have itinerary-related questions, please post them there!


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