Monday, May 26, 2008

Tuscan Villas and Gardens

Villa Marlia Grotto - Water Jokes
Last week I took my last course at the British Institute called Tuscan Villas and Gardens. It’s a week course focusing on villas and gardens in Tuscany. We focused on Villas in and around Florence except for Wednesday when we focused on three villas near Lucca. All transportation and entry fees were included in the course. Here’s a list of what we did:

-- Monday, Villa Medici Fiesole. -- Tuesday, Villa Castello (Medici) and Boboli Gardens.
-- Wednesday, three villas in the Lucca area: Villa Garzoni, Villa Torrigiani, and Villa Marlia.
-- Thursday, Villa Le Balze and Villa Gamberia.
-- Friday, Villa La Pietra

Interspersed with the tours were a couple of lectures back at the library of the British Institute. Standout visits for me were Le Balze (built by an American philosopher Charles Strong), Gamberia, and La Pietra. To be fair, all of the places we saw had something to recommend them. Probably the weakest was Villa Garzoni because it was a bit Disney-esque and really didn’t have that much to see.

What’s interesting to note is that many of the most famous villas around Florence are currently owned by American universities. Also, many were bought, restored, and made famous the end of the 19th century by Brits.

So why so much focus on the villa? There are many reasons, but one which stuck out for me was the concept of “otium” which translates to something like “leisure with dignity”. The villa was a place you got your otium on, so to speak.

During the course we learned to recognize the typical elements which made a Renaissance villa; a kit per se consisting of limonaia (greenhouse for citrus), secret garden, grotto, walking paths, green theater, water jokes, and other features. Of these elements, water jokes are the one feature which while still present, rarely work. It was with great surprise that we actually turned on the water jokes at Villa Marlia. We found the valves and let them rip. Everyone ran around wet and laughing – the purpose of the water jokes. A cell phone image shows the grotto at Villa Marlia where you can turn on the water. Water comes from all directions from little hidden tubes. Even when you run out of the grotto, a couple of water streams hit you. No escape.
Brochure for Tuscan Gardens and Villa Course

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