on August 8, 2004
We will tour this huge park clockwise, the trip will take 2 – 4 hours (you can escape earlier). Turn left from the entrance arch and you will find the so-called 'Fontana del Bacco', really an amusing statue of Pietro Barbino, the dwarf of Cosimo I, seated on a turtle, created by Valerie Cioli (1560). Here can be seen the last stretch of the Corridoio Vasariano from the Uffizi Palace. A path descends to the most popular place in the park - Grotta del Buontalenti, named after its architect (1583-93). The two statues of Apollo and Ceres in the niches on the façade (begun by Vasasi) are by Baccie Bandinelli, and the decoration above was added by Giovanni del Tadda. The walls of the 1st chamber are covered with weird figures and fake stalactites carved in the limestone by Piero Tommaso Mati (again, designed by Buontalenti). In the four corners are copies of Michelangelo's unfinished Slaves (the originals are in the Academia). The charmingly painted vault is by Bernardino Poccetti. Beyond an erotic group of Paris abducting Helen, by Vincenzo de’ Rossi, the innermost grotto contains a beautiful statue of Venus emerging from her bath (1565) by Giambologna, and pretty murals by Poccetti.
From the Grotta del Buontalenti a narrow path leads up to the Grotticina di Madama , commissioned by Eleonora di Toledo, and the first grotto to be built in the gardens (1553-55), by Bandili and Giovanni Fancelli. It was locked during our visit but you can see the most of it from outside - stalactites and bizarre goats.
Now return to terrace behind the Pitti Palace. The main path emerges on the terrace, overlooking the courtyard and Fontana del Carciofo (by Francesco Susini (1661). It replaced a fine fountain by Ammannati (now recomposed in the Bargello). From the terrace there is a magnificent view of the Duomo and Campanile behind Orsanmichele.
Ammannati laid out the area around the Amphitheater, in imitation of a Roman circus. The first opera Dafni was performed here in 1597 (remember, I told you that Florentines invented opera). The vast amphitheater facing the palace courtyard was designed in 1630-35 Giulio and Alfonso Parigi for the spectacles held here by the Medici which culminated in the festivities for the marriage of Cosimo, son of Ferdinand II with Margaret Louise of Orleans in 1661. The earliest opera whose music survived in its entirety, is Euridice, premiered in the Pitti Palace on occasion of the proxy marriage Maria de’Medici to Henry IV, the King of France.
The huge granite basin comes from the Bath of Caracalla. The genuine obelisk of Rameses II (1500 BC) was taken from Heliopolis (or from Luxor?) by Romans in 30 BC, and somehow found its way to the Villa Medici in Rome in the 17th C. The obelisk was brought here in 1790 from Rome.
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