The Medici Villa at Castello Reopens the ‘Grotto of the Animals’

A detail of the ‘Grotto of the Animals’ at the Medici Villa of Castello

The Ministry of Culture and Director of Tuscan Museums invite the public to see the recently restored Grotto of the Animals, newly accessible after a 12-year closure, at the Medici Villa in Castello, just in time for Easter weekend.

Set in the hills just outside Florence, the Medici family acquired the country house in 1477 and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was in this villa that Botticelli painted The Birth of Venus and Spring, subsequently moved to the Uffizi Museum. The villa, not accessible to the public, is now home to the the Crusca Academy, dedicated to the study of the Italian language.

The gardens, considered to be one of the most exemplary of formal Italian gardens, were designed by Niccolò Tribolo, inspired by the Boboli Gardens in Florence. The terraced gardens contain several fountains with allegorical references to Hercules and Anteus, January and Apennine. The hydraulic system of the villa was considered one of the wonders of the High Renaissance. A limonaia, or citrus garden still features trees bearing fruit.

But it is the Grotto of the Animals (Grotta degli Animali) which gives the visitor a glimpse of Cosimo I de Medici’s vision of playfulness when he commissioned the gardens hoping to lead Florence into a period of peace, harmony and prosperity after a long period of wars and suffering.

Designed by Giorgio Vasari, the cave features multicolored animals and mythological beasts—lions, giraffes, ibex, unicorns and fishes. Two marble bathtubs grace the interior, one fabricated from the red marble of Seravazza and one made of white marble from the quarries in the Apuan Alps near Lucca. The limestone walls are ornately embedded with stones and shells.  Water jets will be reactivated prior to the summer.

The public is invited to the preliminary reopening of the grotto and gardens on Easter and Pasquetta (Easter Monday), with viewings of the grotto available from outside the cave. Beginning April 11 visitors are invited to enter inside the grotto with free guided tours, Thursday through Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm.

The Medici Villa in Castello is located at Via di San Michele a Castello, 47, Firenze, FL. For further information, see the website for all the Medici villas.  (Rita Kungel)