Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens

Palazzo Pitti

Any place that had been not only the playground of the powerful Medici family but was also a residence for Napoleon and the Royal Palace of the Kingdom of Italy would have to have been a grand place. The Palazzo Pitti (or Pitti Palace) doesn’t disappoint. Not just a grand building with all the trappings of money and power, but a lush, formal garden with amphitheatres, lawns and grand cascades.

Originally built in 1458 as the home of one of Florence’s richest bankers, Luca Pitti, the harsh-looking building was soon sold, unfinished, when Pitti’s fortunes plummeted. It was purchased by Eleonora di Toledo, the wife of Cosimo I de’ Medici of Tuscany who later became the Grand Duke. Having came into the hands of the ruling Medici family, it remained their base and principle residence until the last male Medici heir died in 1737.

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Towards the rear of the Palazzo, from the impressive gardens

There was then a succession of owners, including the Austrian House of Lorraine, in the person of Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, Napoleon, and then, when Florence was briefly the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II. His grandson, Victor Emmanuel III, finally presented the palazzo to the nation in 1919, along with most of the treasures sitting within it.

The various buildings of the Palazzo Pitti now houses several separate galleries and museums, making it the largest such museum in Florence, and is regularly open to the public. The ticket office at the south end of the facade offers two types of ticket, giving you the choice of the building itself, with the Royal Apartments and other galleries (which include works by Raphael, Caravaggio, Rubens, Titian, and many others) or the Boboli and Bardini Gardens and the Porcelain Museum. Teddy decided to go for the latter. The museums and galleries are generally open every day except Monday. The gardens are open every day.

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The amphitheatre and obelisk

And the gardens are HUGE! One estimate suggests they may cover as much as 320,000 square metres! Extensive, very pleasant and formal in a unique Italian style, garden lovers will spend all day strolling and exploring. There are many outbuildings (some originally used for gardeners, porters, builders and other labourers), lush lawns and traditional features such as an enormous amphitheatre. Explorers are rewarded with many hidden treasures, including statues and artworks, both classical and modern. The lawn area at the south end is a popular spot for resting in the shade and enjoying the expansive views of Florence and the Tuscan hills.

At the northern end are huge ramparts, originally built by Michelangelo to protect Florence during the seige of 1529. Nearby (and through the gate where you head off to visit the Bardini Garden, another must-see) is the palace known as Fort Belvedere, or the Fort of San Giorgio, originally designed by Bernardo Buontalenti (1590-1600) as a defensive structure, but actually used as a strong-room for the vast Medici treasury.

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Inside the Porcelain Museum

Nearby is the Garden of the Cavelier, where you will find the building that houses the Porcelain Museum, originally built in the 18th century as a retreat for the Grand Duke. Open Tuesday to Sunday, the museum has several rooms displaying a collection mainly of table porcelain used by the Gran Ducal and Royal Houses of the Medici, Lorraine and Savoy. Some of the pieces were made specifically for the regents, others were gifts from foreign princes.

Again, from the formal garden outside, you have glorious views of the Tuscan countryside.

Finally, down near the exit on the north side of the main building, is the incredible, and perhaps just a little bizarre, grotto designed by Bernardo Buontalenti. A mix of sculpture and nature, it looks like a cave dripping both inside and out with stalactites. It looks both impressive and just a little scary (certainly to a small Teddy, anyway).

Just to the left of this grotto is a secret door, which leads to the private corridor (now full of very famous portraits) that the Medici family used to walk from the Palazzo Pitti, across the Ponte Vecchio to their city offices (now the Uffizi Gallery) without ever having to step outside. You can see the corridor continue to the Palazzo, and you should see if you can follow it all the way back across the Arno and into the city.

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The bizarre Buontalenti Grotto. (Sssshhh, but that's a secret corridor up along the left there!)

Teddy discovered this wonderful quote from Wikipedia, which pretty much sums up the Palazzo Pitti:

Florence receives more than five million visitors each year, and for many of them the Palazzo Pitti is an essential stop. Thus the palazzo still impresses visitors with the splendours of Florence, the purpose for which it was originally built.” 

 

6 Responses to Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens

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