Free September Tours of Villa Castello’s Medici Gardens

The 500th birthday celebrations of Cosimo I and Caterina de’ Medici brings about another exciting opportunity for those wishing to experience the Medici lifestyle: thanks to a gracious collaboration between the museum complex of Tuscany and the Municipality of Florence, the enchanting gardens of the Medici Villa at Castello will be open for free and will also offer no-cost guided tours every Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 am and 11 am from September 7 to September 29.

Tucked in the Tuscan countryside just a few kilometers from downtown Florence, the 14th century Medici Villa at Castello was bought by the Medicis in 1477 and reached its aesthetic peak under Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, who commissioned the renovation of the villa and its surrounding lands to reflect the greatness of his duchy and family legacy. While Giorgio Vasari took charge of restoring the villa, architect Niccolò Tribolo designed and constructed what became one of the first formal Italian Renaissance gardens in 1538.

Geometrically simple in its design, the garden boasts three terraces intertwining botanical beauty, artistic masterpieces and surprising oddities. The first terrace features 16 stunning flower beds and Bartolomeo Ammannati’s Fountain of Hercules and Antaeus, as well as several classical sculptures added in the 17th century. The second terrace is home to the villa’s citrus garden, showcasing 500 rare varieties of plants, and perhaps the garden’s most famous and mysterious attraction: the Cave of the Animals.

This characteristic work of the Mannerist art movement was completed under Vasari in 1574 and is decorated with mosaics, seashells, pebbles, sponges, stucco, marble bathtubs and several animal sculptures whose iconographic meaning is still debated today. Beyond this artificial grotto, the second terrace contains two ‘secret’ gardens built by the Lorraine family, later rulers of Tuscany and owners of the estate, to store the citrus plants during the winter. The third and final terrace also takes inspiration from the Lorraine family with its less formal, English-style garden, while still maintaining connections to the Medici aesthetic with Ammannati’s Fountain of January.

To experience the wonderful flower beds, statues, fountains, grottos, mazes and plants of the Gardens of the Castello Medici Villa, reservations can be made by calling +39 055 2768224, emailing or visiting the website.  Please note that this visit is not accessible to those with mobility or heart problems; in addition, visits may be suspended under rainy conditions. (Lea Bourgade)