Villa Gamberaia in Florence
The building looks like a regular parallelepiped volume in the best tradition of Tuscan architecture. The villa is built on a walled basement, a terrace that is of fundamental importance in the spatial logic of this type of settlement: the large shoe wall, taken from Roman substructions and already experienced in the archetypal models of the Tuscan villa, such as Poggio a Caiano , gives impetus and monumentality to architecture.
Inside the walled basement there are service rooms and agricultural use, which can be accessed directly from both the house and the field of olive trees in front. This creates a spatial and functional continuity between the residence, the garden and the farmland, according to a typically Tuscan and Italian concept of the organization of the spaces. The severe wall block is punctuated by the six kneeling windows on the ground floor, with stone corbels between which a relief lozenge is modeled on the inside mirrors. At the center the sober ashlar portal marks the rhythm of the openings, creating the ideal center of the axis transversal to the garden. In fact, this axis crosses the ground courtyard and passes the rear door to end in the elongated ellipse of the "rustic toilet" that connects the floor of the house to the upper garden. The parallelepiped opens on one side towards the parterre with a magnificent loggia architraved with Tuscan columns, the same that mark the inner courtyard.
From the first floor of the villa on the front behind two terraces open onto arches supported by rusticated pillars: the external south pillar houses a spiral staircase that leads from the first floor of the villa to the garden. A brilliant solution that contains the key to understanding a conception of aesthetic and functional life at the same time. It can be assumed that the terraces and the loggia were added by the Capponi, when the garden was also enriched by the parterre de broderie on which the view becomes more significant. On the ground floor a large living room opens to Florence, while the other spaces are arranged on the courtyard. Next to the entrance behind the door on the left, you can see the architrave with the inscription that recalls the construction of the villa in the 1610. Even the rooms on the first floor respond in the distribution, partly made more functional by the restoration work carried out after the war, in the same spirit of perfect rural simplicity: a style with a human dimension that banishes any superfluous monumentality in the pursuit of the essential . This is why the architecture of the villa despite having gone through four centuries of life, is equally modern and habitable.
The history of Villa Gamberaia
Located on the hills of Settignano, in a dominant position on the city of Florence and the Arno valley, Gamberaia appears for the first time in documents of the end of the fourteenth century, when a farmhouse with a farmhouse belonged to the Convent of S. Martino a Mensola. At the beginning of the fifteenth century it became property of Matteo di Domenico, who adopted the surname Gamberelli. Two of his sons, Bernardo and Antonio Rossellino, were among the most important architects and sculptors of the time. The name of the family and of the villa probably derives from shrimps, bred in freshwater tanks in the area.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Zanobi Lapi, a rich and cultured Florentine merchant, who had made his fortune in the luxury textile sector, bought the villa and began to build the main house, partly on pre-existing bases. He and his two nephews arranged the main areas of the gardens and the waterways for the fountains. A century later it passed into the hands of the Marquises Capponi. Following their restoration, it soon became known as one of the most beautiful villas in Florence. In the ancient cabreo (c.1725-30) and in the engravings by Giuseppe Zocchi (c.1744), its distinctive elements are found: the two parallel axes in a north-south direction of the entrance road bounded by cypresses and bowling green , and the perpendicular east-west that gives shape to the cabinet de rocaille (rustic cabinet), bordered by holm oak woods, the backyard with its lemon-house and, at the southern end, the sophisticated French parterre complete with aviary and "garenna" or "island of rabbits". Adorn the caves and walls of the gardens, statues, busts of the four seasons and urns.
The last intervention from the garden, and the only one carried out in the modern era, was the transformation of what remained of the old parterre de broderie located south of the villa at the behest of two talented owners: the Romanian princess Catherine Jeanne Ghyka, born Kashko , sister of Queen Natalia of Serbia, who designed the famous parterre d'eau (started in the 1896-98 period) and the American MatildaCassLedyard, baroness von Ketteler, who gave the garden the predominantly "evergreen" character and the architectural forms that we can still admire (c.1925-1935).
After its partial destruction during the II World War, in the 1954 the villa was bought by the Italian industrialist Marcello Marchi, whose family owned other historical residences in Tuscany. It was he and his wife Nerina von Erdberg who subjected the villa and the garden to major restoration work, immortalized in the photographs of Balthazar Korab (1966), which returned them to their former glory. In 1994, the ownership of the villa passed to her daughter Franca († 1998) and her husband Luigi Zalum, who continued the work of conservation and restoration started by their father. Originally from the Serbian principality of Zahlum (now Herzegovina), the Zalum family is known for its commercial and banking activities in the city of Livorno since early 700.