Villa Gamberaia

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The villa appears as a regular block in the best tradition of Florentine architecture. It stands on walled foundations to create a terrace, a feature of fundamental importance to the spatial logic of properties of this kind: the vast sloping wall, borrowed from Roman building, and already characteristic of Tuscan villas such as Poggio a Caiano, enhances the monumental aspect of the architecture. The foundations house agricultural store-rooms which can be reached directly from the house or from the fields below it. They therefore provide spatial continuity between the house and garden and surrounding country, uniting them according to the traditional Tuscan and Italian conception of planning. The severity of the main block is broken by six kneeling window on the ground floor, with stone surrounds and corbels enclosing lozenge reliefs below the sills. A rusticated arched door in the center of the facade also marks the ideal central axis of the garden. This axis crosses the inner courtyard through the door at the back of the villa to meet the elongated curve of the cabinet, an “open-air drawing-room”, linking the ground level to the upper garden. The south side of the villa, overlooking the parterre, has a fine loggia with the same Tuscan columns as appear in the internal courtyard. From the first floor of the villa two balconies extend over arcades supported by rusticated piers. The external south pier encloses a spiral staircase leading from the first floor to the garden: a delightful solution offering the key to our understanding of way of life, governed by both practical and aesthetic considerations. The balconies and the loggia were added to the building by the Capponi, after 1717, when the broderie parterre and other characteristic features were also created. A large salone on the ground floor overlooks Florence and other rooms open from the inner courtyard. The architrave above the left door on the east side of the house bears the date 1610, recording the construction of the present villa. The rooms on the first floor, restored after World War II, are arranged to accord fully with the simplicity of country-life, the style being governed by restraint rather than ostentatious display. This does much to explain why the villa, although some four hundred years old, appears both modern and delightfully habitable.

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Located on the hills of Settignano, overlooking the city of Florence and the Arno valley, the Gamberaia is first mentioned in documents of the late 1300s, when a farmhouse on this site belonged to the Convent of S. Martino a Mensola. In the early 1400s it became the property of Matteo di Domenico, who adopted the surname Gamberelli. Two of his sons, Bernardo and Antonio Rossellino, were among the most important architects and sculptors of the time. The name of the family and villa probably derives from gamberi (crayfish), farmed in fresh-water ponds in the area.

At the beginning of the 1600s, Zanobi Lapi, a wealthy and cultivated Florentine merchant, who had made his fortune in luxury textiles, purchased the villa and began building the main house, in part on preexisting foundations. He and his two nephews also laid out the main areas of the gardens and system of fountains. A century later the property, which by now counted some fifteen farm houses, passed into the hands of the marchesi Capponi. Following their renovations, it soon became known as one of the most beautiful villas of Florence. In the estate map (c.1725-30) and in the etchings by Giuseppe Zocchi (c.1744), one can make out its distinctive elements: the two parallel north-south axes of the cypress-lined entrance road and bowling-green, the perpendicular east-west axis of the cabinet de rocaille, flanked by the boschetti or ilex woods, the upper terrace with its lemon house and garden, and at the south end an elaborate French-style parterre, complete with aviary and rabbit island. Statues, busts of the four seasons, and urns adorned the grottoes and garden walls.

The last, and only modern, intervention in the gardens was the transformation of what remained of the old parterre to the south of the villa by two talented women owners: the Romanian Princess Catherine Jeanne Ghyka, née Kesko, sister of Queen Nathalie of Serbia, who designed the celebrated parterre d’eau (begun 1896-98), and the American-born Matilda Cass Ledyard, Baroness von Ketteler, who gave it the predominantly evergreen and architectonic character that we still see today (c.1925-1935).

Following the partial destruction of the villa during the Second World War, the Gamberaia was acquired in 1954 by Marcello Marchi, whose family had founded important Italian industries and owned other historic properties in Tuscany. Thanks to him and his wife, Nerina von Erdberg, an extensive restoration of the house and the gardens was carefully carried out, immortalised in the photographs of Balthazar Korab (1966). In 1994 the Villa passed to his daughter Franca (†1998) and her husband Luigi Zalum, who has continued the work of conservation and restoration. The Zalum family, noted for its mercantile and banking activities in Livorno since the early eighteenth century, traces its origins to the Serbian principality of Zahlum (now Herzegovina).

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General Info

  • Swimming Pool :
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  • Rooms : 28
  • Beds : 54
  • Price per Day (Whole House) : N.A.
  • Price per Week (Whole House) : N.A.
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Events and Weddings

  • Available Halls : 3
  • Seats : 170

Movie Set

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  • Breakfast : Price N.A.
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  • Tickets : 10€
  • Open on : Mon,Tue,Wed,Thu,Fri,Sat,Sun
  • Opening times : 9:00-18:00
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Villa Gamberaia

Region : Tuscany

Province : FI

City : Firenze

Address : Via del Rossellino, 72

ZIP Code : 50135

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Telephone: 0039 055 697205

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