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The Villa That is Florence’s Imperial Treasure

[wzslider]With its art and architecture, and its history as the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is often hailed as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And one the best ways to experience the city of Michelangelo and David is to stay in the recently renovated Imperiale Villa, which has witnessed more than 600 years of the city’s turbulent history.

In a privileged location in the Tuscan hills, the three-king-bedroom property is a stunning example of a 15th century Italian urban villa, set within traditional gardens. The Florentine villa maintains its historic charm while offering modern conveniences and a contemporary feel.

Close to Piazzale Michelangelo, it sits 2000 meters from the Florence city center and 15 minutes from the Ponte Vecchio. The Piazzale Michelangelo hosts reproductions of some of Michelangelo’s best known works and overlooks the entire panorama of Florence. Outdoors, guests find expansive grassy lawns and a winter garden, as well as traditional trees, shrubs and herbs.  A large terrace hosts an alfresco dining table for 12.

With the Imperiale’s current magnificence, it’s hard to believe what a wreck the place was when discovered by Marisa in 1985.

“It was love at first sight,” she recalls, “when I saw the villa in the hills above Florence. But the house was in a total state of neglect from the end of the last war.”

As a member of the new family of owners, Marisa was uniquely qualified to bring the villa back to life. Born in Liguria, she graduated in architecture in Florence in 1980 and devoted herself to restoring historical buildings, including villas, right down to the choices of fabrics, furniture and other interior design elements.

She of course was entranced by the villa’s history. It stands by a castle complex where there was once a ninth-century fortified castle, which took advantage of the strategic hilltop position overlooking the city. While the villa dates back to the 14th century the first documentary evidence of it records it belonging to the Lanfredini family, in 1427.

Some key moments in the history of the castle and villa occurred during the siege of Florence (1529-1530), when Pier Maria III de’ Rossi, Count of San Secondo, the nephew of Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and commander of the Imperial troops, made them their headquarters, with his troops hosted by Bartolomeo Lanfredini. From the top of the tower troops directed a hail of artillery against the fortifications of San Miniato al Monte.

On a few occasions, between 1634 and 1642, the villa played host to famous astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei, who came with his students to further his studies.

After the death of Cardinal Lanfredini, in 1741, the villa passed through the hands of several owners until it was acquired by antiquarian Stefano Bardini in the early 20th century. Following the fashion of the time, he restored the ancient building in a medieval style. In 1937, the villa had the honor of hosting the Prince of Piedmont and his wife.

Following the war, the villa fell into disrepair. In 1985, it was bought by Marissa’s family, who at once began a restoration project. “The idea was to bring it back to life,” she says.  “We started doing historical research to understand what happened to the villa, from its first major work in the 15th century to the last work carried out by Bardani.”

Working with her son, Andrew, Marissa sourced original building materials for the renovation, rebuilt the large fireplace in the living room, restored the frescoes in the 17th century chapel, incorporated the old floor paving stones, rebuilt a fountain in the courtyard and did much more.  In keeping with the villa’s history, Marissa even used techniques and materials dating back to the Middle Ages to treat furnishings and architectural elements, including waxes, natural oils and egg tempera.

“To recreate the harmony and atmosphere that once reigned in these rooms, without destroying their soul, was the guiding principle for us throughout the renovation,” says Marissa.

Today the Imperiale Villa stands proud and beautiful, one of Florence’s prized historical treasures.

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