The third and last official residence of the Medici in Florence is the grandiose Palazzo Pitti. Located at the foot of the Boboli hill in the Oltrarno quarter, just past the Ponte Vecchio, the palace now hosts the city’s largest museum complex, including – among others – the Palatine Gallery (once the Medici’s private art collection, with paintings by Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, and others), the Gallery of Modern Art (a collection of works by 19th and 20th century Italian painters, such as the so-called Macchiaioli), and the Royal Apartments (inhabited by the Medici and their successors, among them the Kings of Italy). In addition, the large uphill park on the back of Palazzo Pitti, known as the Boboli Gardens, represents one of the world’s finest examples of “giardino all’italiana” (Italian garden), with its sculptures, fountains, and limonaia (orangery), but also an amphitheater and an Ancient Egyptian obelisk.
In the course of its long history, the Pitti Palace would become the main residence of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, seven of whom were members of the Medici dynasty. The building, however, already existed by the times of Cosimo the Elder. In fact, its construction began in 1458, when the rich Florentine banker Luca Pitti – who until then had been a friend and supporter of the Medici – started to rival the family’s glory by intending to erect the most sumptuous palace in Florence: according to the legend reported by Giorgio Vasari, Pitti even picked up the abandoned project that Filippo Brunelleschi had first proposed for Cosimo’s palace on Via Larga, then commissioning the architect Luca Fancelli to make the windows of his new building as big as the main entrance of Palazzo Medici, while the courtyard alone should have been as large as the whole Medici Palace. Eventually, though, Pitti fell deep into debt and was thus forced to stop his ambitious plan and to leave part of his residence unfinished.
Funnily enough, it was the Medici family who would soon take full possession of Palazzo Pitti: around 1550, Duchess Eleanor of Toledo – wife of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Duke of Florence – decided to buy this estate from the impoverished descendants of Luca Pitti. When Cosimo I was later elevated to the rank of Grand Duke of Tuscany, he decided to move his official seat from Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti. Besides doubling the size of the palace (with new additions by Bartolomeo Ammannati) and laying the cornerstone of what would become the Boboli Gardens (under Niccolò Tribolo’s supervision), Cosimo I commissioned Vasari with the construction of the famous Corridor connecting his old palace to the new residence through the Uffizi Gallery and the Ponte Vecchio.
However, it was not until the rise to power of Cosimo I’s son and successor Francesco I in 1574 that Palazzo Pitti permanently replaced Palazzo Vecchio as the royal residence. Just as his father, Francesco was a great patron of the arts and also a science enthusiast: he asked Vasari to build him the finely-decorated Studiolo in the Old Palace (to serve as his own laboratory) and the Tribuna of the Uffizi, while the gardens of the new palace were enriched with the extravagant Grotto by Bernardo Buontalenti.
Francesco and his wife gave birth to six females (among them Maria de’ Medici, future Queen of France), but they were unable to produce male descendants. Upon Francesco’s sudden death in 1587, he was thus succeeded by his younger brother Ferdinando, a cardinal and “founder” of the Villa Medici in Rome: eventually, though, the new Grand Duke had to renounce his vows in order to marry Christina of Lorraine (their wedding was celebrated in Palazzo Pitti’s courtyard). In addition to the building of the Forte Belvedere at the very top of the Boboli hill, Ferdinando also wanted Matteo Nigetti to begin the construction of the Chapel of the Princes, the main section of the Medici mausoleum in San Lorenzo. Moreover, Ferdinando I delegated none other than Galileo Galilei with the education of his son, Cosimo II, who came to power in 1609 and is remembered today as the patron of the great scientist.
Just like Cosimo II, the three Medici Grand Dukes that followed him – that is, Ferdinando II (1621-70), Cosimo III (1670-1723), and Gian Gastone (1723-37) – were all born and raised in Palazzo Pitti. During their reigns, which marked an era of economic decline for Tuscany, the royal palace nonetheless continued to expand and to fill up with precious works of art: for example, Ferdinando II arranged the decoration of the halls nowadays hosting the Medici Treasury (or Silver Museum), as well as that of the so-called Rooms of the Planets with allegorical frescoes by Pietro da Cortona and Ciro Ferri representing the apotheosis of the Medici family.
By the start of the 18th century, though, the Grand Ducal branch of the Medici was on the verge of extinction, to the consternation of Cosimo III: of his two male heirs, the eldest – Grand Prince Ferdinando – had died before him without descendants, while the youngest – Gian Gastone, who succeeded him – also had no issue. Upon Gian Gastone’s death in 1737, thus, Florence and Tuscany ended up into the hands of the House of Lorraine, as Palazzo Pitti did.
But even so, another member of the family, Cosimo III’s only daughter Anna Maria Luisa, Electress of the Palatinate, continued to live at the palace until her own death in 1743: to her, the last lineal descent of the House of Medici, we owe the completion of the Medici Chapels and the all-important Family Pact, prohibiting the new reigning dynasty to take away from Florence any of the works of art that the Medici had collected during their long, long history.
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The Antinori’s family’s winemaking history has been synonymous with the famed wine growing regions of Tuscany and Umbria since its inception more than six centuries ago, 26 generations, when Giovanni di Piero Antinori entered the “Arte Fiorentina,” the Winemakers’ Guild of Florence, in 1385.
Today the firm is run by Piero Antinori and his three daughters: Albiera, Allegra, and Alessia. Throughout its storied past, the family has managed this work with a fundamental respect for tradition and the territory in which they have operated. Today, their wines are among the most recognized and highly rated of Italy.
The cornerstone of the family’s philosophy has been that quality is a long-term and ongoing commitment, and the Antinori family’s centuries of successful wine production is due in no small part to this commitment.
It’s what gives the family a perspective that is unique in the wine world, and allows them to think beyond a single vintage or a single place, and to make bold choices while remaining true to the tradition, culture and taste of Antinori wines.
Super Tuscans came into being during the 1970s, when rebellious winemakers in Chianti, in Tuscany, began to experiment with different types of grape. One of the first was Tignanello, released in 1971 by the Antinori family. They had started experimenting with cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc in the 1920s but the vines were abandoned during the second world war before being replanted in the 1960s.
Solaia, created in 1978 by Piero Antinori, came about because a superlative crop of cabernet sauvignon was harvested that year. Rather than including it in the Tignanello blend (sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc), Antinori tried his hand at making a wine with just cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.
Masseto was created at Tenuta dell'Ornellaia, by Lodovico Antinori, Piero's brother. Made entirely from merlot, it was first produced in 1986 and, for that vintage, was described simply as merlot. This wine's rarity and price, for any of the vintages, are comparable to those of another highly sought-after merlot-only wine - Chateau Petrus, from Pomerol, in Bordeaux.
Since 1992, super Tuscans have been given their own designation, IGT (indicazione geografica tipica), which allows for experimentation with non-Italian varieties, as long as all the grapes are grown in the area where the wine is made.
Some of these wine rebels have been rewarded with their own DOC. Sassicaia (mostly cabernet sauvignon), made at Tenuta San Guido, by the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, was one of the trailblazers. From 1948, the marchese produced Sassicaia for personal consumption, before releasing the wine commercially in 1968. He was one of the first to see the potential of Bordeaux grapes in Tuscany and had the courage to plant something different. Sassicaia is the only wine from a single estate to have its own DOC - Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC, granted in 1994.
For almost 40 years we’ve traveled to Italy and for the longest time, I had a firm travel resolution: I would see as much as I could see in the time we had. I didn’t want to miss anything. In reality I missed quite a bit. When we took our kids on an extended trip in 2000 to let them truly experience Italy, we threw that resolution out the window and have had a much richer travel experience ever since.
I still hesitate whenever we contemplate a trip to a city we’ve previously visited—do we really need to see the same place again?
The answer, I found out is, “yes.”
We’ve been lucky enough to be able to return to many of the same cities and regions in Italy many times over the years and part of me was afraid of being disappointed upon going back. What I neglected to consider is that returning to those cities for repeated visits is an opportunity to slow down and stop thinking that this could be our only chance to visit. On those repeat trips, I didn’t feel compelled to try to pack an entire region into a two week visit. I didn’t skip out on smaller and more intimate experiences out of fear that I’d miss some of the top attractions if I did so. Instead, we took our time and fully explored each place we visited rather than rushing off to a new one.
On many repeat trips, we’ve revisited some of the same places we’d previously explored, but we also ventured into totally new places as well. Getting to parts of the regions and cities we missed previously opened up a whole new side of each destination, and many new friendships. As an example, on a recent trip to Lago di Garda I had been following the story of a young vintner, Daniele, who had returned from a successful career as a banker in Paris, to his grandfathers villa 30 minutes from the lake. Villa Calicantus is the smallest winery of the Bardolino wine area: 1.2 hectares (3 acres) of vineyards surrounded by olive trees and small woods, on the top of one of the highest hills of the Bardolino Classico area. To Daniele, Villa Calicantus was a dream, a dream made of passion, respect and love for the land: his dream is to demonstrate that it is possible to produce a “vin de garde” respectful of all the characteristics of the Bardolino wine. I reached out to Daniele asking if we could drop by to visit, he was thrilled and invited us one late afternoon about 5pm. When we arrived it was as if we were family, he took us on a walking tour of his vineyard, into his ancient cellars, where his grandfather had aged his wines, to barrel taste the wines. He took us on a tour of the bedrooms on the third floor of the villa, all the furniture from when his grandfather lived there, all beautiful period pieces. We spent the rest of the evening on his loggia drinking his wines, eating breads Daniele had made himself, salumi and cheeses that his neighbors had made . . . a truly wonderful experience. To this day we stay in touch and Daniele says if we ever want to come and help with the harvest, we're welcome to stay at his villa.
It would be a shame to think that we’d really experienced Italy just because we’d been to Rome, Florence, or Venice.
So for 2017, we’re simply resolving to say yes to as many opportunities as we can. Or put another way: focus on making new memories.
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Tony Moglia's grandparents immigrated from Italy in the early 1900's. He's a dual citizen who has traveled extensively throughout Italy for 40 years. He's happily married to a vibrant dancer who together have two children and three grandchildren. Tony has dreamed of Villas of Italy since his first trip to Italy, and now he shares his dream with you.