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Historical and touristic guide of Poggio a Caiano

gio 03 set, 2020


Poggio a Caiano is located at the intersection of straight lines from Florence to the city of Pistoia, and from the city of Prato and Montalbano.
From the hill that gives the town its name ("poggio" meaning "knoll" in Italian together with the family name "Caius" or "Caia") there’s a fine view over the plain of the rivers Ombrone and Bisenzio toward Prato to the north and Florence to the east, and over the lowlands leading to Pistoia and the Appenine mountains.
It was not by accident that Lorenzo de' Medici chose this site to build his Villa, the building which is still the most dominant in the town, to the point that the one is always identified by the other.

Founding to the middle ages

​It is not easy to reconstruct with any certainty the history of the area from pre-Roman or even Roman times. It is believed that there was some kind of Roman settlement (such as a Roman camp or a home of the Cai family) which, according the the history of Livy, was abandoned.

This area, from texts written when Hannibal passed through on his way from Mantova to Arezzo, was described as swampy and practically uninhabitable. Other sources report that the foothills around Poggio a Caiano have been inhabited since the high middle ages.

Beginning in the 10th century, the area was owned by the Cadalindi di Fucecchio and the Olivetani monks of Pistoia. Ownership passed to the Pistoiese family of the Cancellieri who built a small fortification called Ambra.

For sometime it was believed that this compound was on the exact site of the Villa, but recent studies seem to show that another palazzo, built from the original fortification is located on the main street in front of the Medici Villa, where today one finds a number of private homes. It was in this ancient house that Lorenzo stayed when visiting the construction of his new Villa.

From the 14th to the 17th centuries Poggio a Caiano was well known as the river port of Prato, and the last part of the Ombrone river from the Asse bridge (located just before Poggio a Caiano) was a very active commercial zone connecting Pistoia and Prato via the river Arno with the seaports of Pisa and Livorno.



From the Medici to the House of Savoia

In 1420 Palla Strozzi began to acquire land and buildings from the Cancellieri, and it is at this time we find the name of Poggio a Caiano mentioned for the first time in a few historical documents, next to the names of Bonistallo and Caiano.

In 1488 another famous Florentine family began to show an interest in the area when Giovanni Rucellai purchased the "possessions and buildings and houses of Poggio a Caiano".

The history of the city, however, has remained tied to another, even more illustrious and celebrated family, that of the Medici. By 1431 Cosimo dè Medici had bought six farms in the region. His grandson Lorenzo the Magnificent not only bought property in the area including all of the surrounding estates and began to build the Villa, but also was dedicated to the huge job of constructing flood control canals and stabilizing the banks of the Ombrone as well as upgrading farming techniques on the estates north of the river.

To this end, the wonderful example of the work of Lorenzo are the pastures of Poggio a Caiano - Tavola (a true example of the ideal farm), the construction of which would have begun in the spring of 1477. As a consequence of all the construction at the Villa and in the surrounding area, many highly skilled craftsmen moved to Poggio a Caiano, including masons, carpenters, furniture makers and the like.

This colony of skilled labor constituted the nucleus of the town that was born not as a farming community but as the factory of the Villa giving it the appearance of "city". It's location, between Florence and Pistoia, and the presence of the Villa Medici (which remained after the end of the Medici dynasty the summer home of first the Asburgo - Lorena and then of the Savoia) helped to maintain the prosperity of the small town, which later became one of the principal centers of the art of straw weaving (braids, hats, etc.), or "paglia".



From the Second World War to the present

World War II hit the town of Poggio a Caiano, even if not with irreparable damage. The 8th of August, 1944, the town was the target of heavy cannon fire which caused great distruction and claimed several lives. In the period between the end of July and the 10th of September, 1944, almost a thousand people sought refuge in the Villa, a place offering protection from the bombings.

During the rapid and haphazard retreat of the German Army, the German troops blew up the bridges on the Ombrone and the Iron Bridge designed by the engineer Alessandro Manetti: this bridge being a valuable example of civil engineering from the early 19th century, one of the first examples of a suspension bridge with metal cables in iron.

All that remains of this bridge today, which once connected grounds of the Villa to the pastures of Poggio a Caiano - Tavola, are the two great stone entrance towers. After the war, the town saw rapid economic transformation: the industry of straw weaving was replaced by textiles and manufacturing of clothing.

The development was culminated by the separation of Poggio a Caiano from the city of Carmignano of which Poggio was a part, and the creation of the city, or comune, of Poggio a Caiano, July 14, 1962. The separation can be seen as part of the larger picture of economic progression that affected the two cities in different ways.

Camignano, a mostly agricultural community inserted in a textile economy, suffered from the general crisis felt throughout agriculture in Italy in the last part of the 20th century, while, instead, Poggio a Caiano, again with its fortunate location between Prato, Pistoia and Florence, increased its development in industry and handcrafts, placing itself over time in the wool and textile industry of Prato.


The Town

While the town is dominated by the Villa Medicea there are other notable buildings in the area with notable architectural features. The principal sites are the churches of Santa Cristina in Pilli and Santa Maria in Bonistallo, the Cerreto and the park of Barco, all situated outside of the center of Poggio a Caiano.

The Cerreto and the park of Barco is a more recently developed area with the exclusion of the strip of ancient houses along State route 66 (one of these, as mentioned before, could have been the site of the original fortified house of the Cancellieri and the place where Lorenzo dè Medici stayed during his visits to the building site of the Villa).

In particular there is the 18th century building which serves as the city hall, sitting almost at the top of the hill; the fountain called the "Mascherone", which is located at the beginning of the wall which encloses the garden of the Villa at the bottom of the hill.

In the piazza San Rosario finds the church of the same name built at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th at the urging of a special committee that asked for the seat of the parish to be moved from the less centrally located Church of Santa Maria a Bonistallo. So at the site called "il paretaio" the cornerstone of the new church was laid in 1889, and was consecrated in 1903 without the façade or bell tower in 1903.

The bell tower completed in 1911 collapsed in 1934, and the existing tower, from a design by Ardengo Soffici, was opened in 1938. The campanile's thin, elegant profile, along with the Medici Villa and the church at Bonistallo, is one of the integral elements in the panorama of Poggio a Caiano. Inside the church of San Rosario, brought from Santa Maria a Bonistallo, one finds a painting executed around 1606 "The coronation of the Virgin" attributed to the painter Alessandro Allori. The painting was restored in 1992.

To the north side of the church is the main house of the Institute of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, a congregation founded at the beginning of the last century by Sister Margherita Caiani.



Museum of still life painting

In the Medici Villa of Poggio a Caiano, masterpiece of Renaissance architecture, there is the Museum of Still Life (Natura Morta), the only museum of its kind in Italy and Europe.
The entire third floor of the Villa hosts, in its 900 square meters of space, presented in chronological order, about 200 still life and "living nature" paintings, gathered from the Medici collections. These examples of extraordinary beauty tell the story of a great collection put together with passion in the course of a century and a half, from the beginning of the 17th century to the middle of the 18th century. The works by Italian, Flemish and Dutch artists, acquired or commissioned, come together to create the most important existing collection of still life painting in Italy and Europe. Artists include Bartolomeo Bimbi, Felice Boselli, Jan Brueghel, Margherita Caffi, Giovanna Garzoni, Nicolas van Houbraken, Bartolomeo Ligozzi, Gaspare Lopez, Mario de' Fiori, Otto Marseus, Cristoforo Munari, Pietro Navarra, Filippo Napoletano, Giuseppe Recco, Andrea Scacciati, Franz Werner Tamm, and many others.
A long process and complex research work have made possible the realization of the new museum, which has been supported by the Polo Museale Fiorentino with the collaboration of the City of Poggio a Caiano and the Province of Prato.
Most of the two hundred paintings on display in the museum will be seen by the public for the first time because until now they have been held in storage by the Polo Museale Fiorentino – above all in the Uffizi and at Palazzo Pitti – where they came to rest after historical events, or in the offices of public buildings throughout Italy.
The choice of the Villa Medicea of Poggio a Caiano as home to the museum is not by chance: the Medici intended their collections of still life to be located in their great country residences, each of which was home to a different "subject". At Poggio a Caiano the "great prince" Ferdinando de’ Medici had brought together a large part of his collections; at the Villa Ambrogiana, Cosimo III kept the paintings depicting living animals, especially birds, true and distinctive "portraits", that "form a theater of nature’s marvels"; Careggi was home to the collection of the "teratologica", or works depicting exceptional animal or vegetable rarities due to size, exotic origin or certain physical anomalies that made for the monstrous or unique; at Castello the paintings of flowers; and at Casino della Topaia again Cosimo III gave life to the exceptional comparison between Nature and Art, growing on the surrounding lands "all the types of fruit, citrus, grapes and flowers that up until now have been found" and collecting for the interior of the villa the large canvases of Bimbi that presented them. This monumental pictorial cycle, masterpiece of Italian botanical still life, has been housed in the villa of Poggio a Caiano since 1990 and now becomes one of the centerpieces of the new museum’s collection.
In the 16 rooms of the museum there will also be on display works belonging to the various members of the dynasty of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany who in the course of four generations put together this extraordinary and unique collection. The major players of this great adventure were: Cosimo II de’ Medici (1590-1621) with his wife Maria Maddalena of Austria and his brothers Don Lorenzo and cardinal Carlo; his succesor, the Grand Duke Ferdinando II (1610-1670), his wife Vittoria della Rovere, and his brothers, cardinals Leopoldo and Giovan Carlo; and finally, at the time of the maximum expression of still life, the Grand Duke Cosimo III (1642-1723), his brother cardinal Francesco Maria and his children, the "great prince" Ferdinando and Anna Maria Luisa (1667-1743), the last of the dynasty.



Tourist Office of the City of Poggio a Caiano: +39(0)55-8798779
Office of Culture of the City of Poggio a Caiano: +39(0)55-8701280



The Medici Villa

The Villa Medicea at Poggio a Caiano was built by Lorenzo dè Medici and his heirs from the design of Giuliano da San Gallo between 1485 and about 1520, with a probable break in construction from 1495 to 1513 on account of the exile of the Medici from Florence.
This construction presents many features of the new Renaissance architectural idea, especially in a renewed attention to classical building models and nature.
It always remained the summer residence of the Medici, and, other than hosting numerous notable personalities, it was a stage for the important events in their history, such as the weddings of Alessandro dè Medici and Margherita d'Austria (1536), Cosimo I and Eleonora da Toledo(1539), and that of Francesco I and his lover Bianca Cappello (1579).

The Villa was a required stop for all of the newly married Grand Duchesses, and it was here they would receive the homage of the Florentine nobility before being brought to the city, as in the case of Giovanna d'Austria, the first wife of Francesco I and of Christina di Lorena, wife of Ferdinando I. In the Villa, Francesco I and his second wife, Bianca Cappello, died one day after the other from a long fever, deaths long rumored to have been caused by poisoning.

The Villa was the favorite residence of Cosimo III's son, the prince Ferdinando, a great art lover, who turned the house into an active cultural center. Upon the death of Giangastone dè Medici (1737), the brother of Ferdinando and the last descendant in the Medici line, the Villa passed to the new Grand Dukes of Tuscany, the Asburgo - Lorena, who continued to use it as a summer home and as a resting place on their trips to Prato and Pistoia. With the Napoleonic conquests, Tuscany passed into the French sphere of influence, first under the Kingdom of Etruria, and then as part of the French Empire.

The Villa underwent modifications inside and out, above all works by Pasquale Poccianti, directed by the desires of the regent Maria Luigia d'Etruria and then by Elisa Baciocchi Buonaparte, sister of Napoleon, and who was from 1804 the princess of Lucca and Piombino and from 1809 the grand duchess of Tuscany. Poggio a Caiano became one of her favorite residences and it seems that it was here she hosted her presumed love affair with the celebrated violinist Nicolò Paganini, who gave a number of concerts in the theater of the Villa. With the Restoration, reordering and repairs of the Villa followed, works sponsored by the establishment of the kingdom of Italy and the coming of the Savoia.

When Florence became the capital of Italy, King Victor Emmanuele II, a lover of horses and hunting, redid the Villa, constructing new stables, having a few rooms on the ground floor redecorated and converting the grand hall of Pope Leo X on the second floor into a billiard room.

The King was joined at the Villa by Rosa Vercellana, also known as the "bella Rosina", a commoner from Turin and mistress of Vittorio and later his second wife. As testimony of this latest love story that played out at the Villa are two beautiful bedrooms which one can visit on the second floor. In 1919 the administration of the royal family donated the Villa to the Italian Nation.

The stables and the pastures of Poggio a Caiano were transferred instead, in the first year after World War I, to the Opera Nazionale Combattenti e Reduci (National Veterans Administration), and later sold to private parties.



Villa Medicea



Adjacent buildings and gardens

Next to the Villa there are several buildings such as the chapel (where one finds the "Pietà with Saint Cosimo and Saint Damiano" painted in 1560 by Giorgio Vasari), the kitchens (for which one finds the initial plans in drawings from 1610) and the neo classical greenhouse or limonaia "with adjoining water reserve", another work of Poccianti from around 1825.

Around the middle of the 16th century, under Cosimo I, Niccolò Tribolo reworked the gardens and completed the stables (1548). The view of the Villa together with the new arrangement of the garden and the stables after the work of Tribolo is depicted in one of the famous lunettes of Giusto Utens painted in 1599 for the great hall of the Villa Artimino, now found in the Museum of Florence "Com'era" (How it was).





The stables

Acquired at the end of the 1970s by the city of Poggio a Caiano, the stables are located just outside the walls which enclose the Villa along the road to Prato. The building was designed by the architect Nicolò Pericoli, known as “Il Tribolo”, around vaulted halls or naves on the ground floor for stabling the horses and on the second floor a central balcony with side rooms for the grooms and soldiers.

The imposing dimensions of the main hall give the impression of a kind of secular basilica, transcending the function for which it was made. Today it serves as an exhibition and conference center and is home for the public library and a tourist information office.



The grounds

Of great interest are the gardens which surround the Villa, redesigned after 1811 without following all of the original designs made by Giuseppe Manetti, the engineer commissioned by Elisa Baciocchi. Those designs had envisioned the creation of an English garden, including a lake with a temple dedicated to Diana along with other features in the romantic style.
Actually only the part of the grounds extending away from the rear façade of the Villa, toward the Ombrone river, appears as an English garden with shady lanes and hidden corners. On the right side of the Villa there is the giardino all'italiana, with a central pool and a number of lemon trees in large pots.

The garden is fenced on three sides and closed on the fourth by the previously mentioned limonaia designed by Poccianti. The grounds are rich with rare plants and there are statues, such as the terra cotta figure of the "Capture of the water nymph Ambra by Ombrone", a scene described by Lorenzo dè Medici in his poem "Ambra".


Ambra e Ombrone


The Churches

The most important church in Poggio a Caiano is Santa Maria del Rosario. It was built because the strong population growth, occurred in the 19th century in the flat area of Poggio a Caiano, brought the people to demand that the parish church was moved to Poggio a Caiano, where most of the population was concentrated. This shift was approved on July 28, 1877, by the bishop of Pistoia.




Famous people of Poggio a Caiano


Filippo Mazzei

Filippo Mazzei

Born in 1730 at Poggio a Caiano, he was a doctor, and then a merchant and diplomat, moving from Turkey to London and to America where he was friend to Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
He studied medicine in Florence and practiced in Italy and the Middle East for several years before moving to London in 1755 to take up a mercantile career as an importer. In London he worked as a teacher of Italian language.

He shared his idea of importing Tuscan products, wine and olive trees, to the New World. They convinced him to undertake his next venture, and he contributed to the drafting of the United States Declaration of Independence and went to France as a representative of Virginia during the Revolutionary War against the English. He took part in the French Revolution, remaining on the moderate side and eventually was named representative of King Stanislao Augusto Poniatowski of Poland to the French government. He went to Warsaw to collaborate on the drafting of the Polish Constitution of 1797 and finally returned to Pisa where he died in 1816, because he was buried at the Pisa Suburbano Cemetery there.
Of his writings, his "Memoirs" remain the most interesting.




​ Armando Spadini

  Born in Florence in 1883 to a craftsman and to a seamstress who was native to Poggio   a Caiano, Maria Rigacci, Spadini worked as a ceramist in Florence and attended the school of   nude studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, where he met Ardengo Soffici, as from 1900.
 Within the first ten years of the 20th century he was considered one of the masters of the new school of Italian painting.
Introduced to the Symbolist magazine Leonardo in 1902, he took part in the 59th Esposizione Annuale della Società delle Belle Arti di Firenze in 1906. He moved to Rome in 1910 and devoted his energies to portraits and views of the city. His participation in the Esposizione Internazionale della Secessione began with the first in 1913 and continued in subsequent editions, with one of his works being purchased by the Rome City Council at the fourth.He went through a difficult period after World War I and was attacked as a conservative in the magazine Valori Plastici.
The decision of the Venice Biennale to devote a room exclusively to Spadini’s work at the 14th Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte della Città di Venezia in 1924 marked the end of this hostility and the definitive success of his painting.
Spadini died in 1924, buried in the cemetery of Poggio a Caiano. On his gravestone is the epigraph of Soffici: "For Art he lived - he died - he will continue to live.".




Suora Caiani

  Sister Margherita Caiani

Maria Anna Rosa Caiani was born in Poggio a Caiano on 2 November 1863 in one of the houses on Via Cancellieri (in front of the city hall today), where there is a marble marker on the wall. Her siblings were all brothers including Gustavo (1868–1879) and Osea. She was baptized at Bonistallo in the Church of Santa Maria Assunta in Bonistallo.
Younger brother Gustavo suffered a grave illness for less than a decade after suffering a hip fracture in 1872 and Caiani cared for him until his death at the age of eleven when she was sixteen in 1879. After the death of her brother she decided that - in a humble and charitable spirit - she wanted to care for others who required assistance. Her father died not long after in 1884 and her mother followed less than a decade after this in 1890. After the death of her father she helped her brother Osea in a tobacco shop but the death of her mother following this left her alone since all her brothers had married. It was in her solitude that she realized what her vocation was and found the desire to give herself to God and to others. She had entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Maximus of Turin in Campi Bisenzio but grew dissatisfied and left.

From a young age she dedicated herself to the education of the poorest children of the area and in 1900 gave life, with a group of friends, to the core of the first "Congregation of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart". In 1902 she founded the Institute which today is located opposite the Villa Medici and is the home of the order which now has many branches in Italy and abroad.

Sister Margherita Caiani died at Montughi on August 8, 1921 and was beatified 23 April 1989 by Pope John Paul II. Her body is interred in a reliquary in the chapel of the foundation of the Institute.



Soffici Ardengo Soffici

Ardengo Soffici was born in Rignano sull'Arno (April 7, 1879), but he was adopted Poggio a Caiano as his home. He was a multidisciplinary artist (painter, writer and critic) and he was one of the most fascinating characters in the cultural panorama of Italy and Europe in the 20th century.
In 1900 he moved from Florence to Paris, working for Symbolist journals, and returned in Italy (1907), Soffici settled in Poggio a Caiano and wrote articles on modern artists for the first issue of the political and cultural magazine La Voce.
In 1910 he organised an exhibition of Impressionist painting in Florence in association with La Voce, devoting an entire room to the sculptor Medardo Rosso.
In August 1911 he wrote an article in La Voce on Picasso and Braque, which probably influenced the Futurists in the direction of Cubism. At this time Soffici considered Cubism to be an extension of the partial revolution of the Impressionists.
In 1912-1913 Soffici painted in a Cubist style.
He died on August 12, 1964, in Poggio A Caiano.





Other notable figures

  • The minister Paolo Taddei (1860-1925).
  • The patriot Luigi Becagli (1921-1945).
  • The painter Remo Lazzerini (1925-1987).
  • The painter Francesco Inverni (1935-1991).
  • The poet Giovanni Bellini (1890-1915).
  • The baritone Giorgio Gatti (1948).