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 base, a terrace that is of fundamental importance in the spatial logic of this type of settlement: the large scarp wall, taken from the Roman substructures and already experimented in the archetypal models of the Tuscan villa, such as Poggio a Caiano , gives impetus and monumentality to architecture.
Inside the walled base there are service and agricultural use rooms, which can be accessed directly both from the house and from the olive grove opposite. This creates a spatial and functional continuity between the residence, the garden and the agricultural land, according to a typically Tuscan and Italian conception of the organization of spaces. The severe walled block is marked by the six kneeling windows on the ground floor, with stone shelves between which a lozenge in relief is modeled in the internal mirrors. In 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 cabinet" which connects the floor of the house to the upper garden. The parallelepiped opens on one side towards the parterre with a magnificent architraved loggia with Tuscan columns, the same ones that mark the internal courtyard.
From the first floor of the villa on the rear front there are two terraces on arches supported by ashlar pillars: the external south pillar houses a spiral staircase that leads from the first floor of the villa to the garden. An ingenious solution that holds the key to understanding an aesthetic and functional concept of 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 hall opens towards Florence, while the other spaces are divided into the courtyard. Next to the rear entrance on the left door when exiting, you can see the architrave with the inscription that recalls the construction of the villa in 1610. The rooms on the first floor also respond in the distribution, partly made more functional by the restoration work carried out after the war, in the same spirit of perfect country simplicity: a style on a human scale that banishes any superfluous monumentality in the pursuit of the essential. For this reason the architecture of the villa, despite having spanned four centuries of life, is equally modern and habitable.
The history of Villa Gamberaia
Located on the hills of Settignano, in a dominant position over the city of Florence and the Arno valley, the Gamberaia appears for the first time in documents from the end of the fourteenth century, when a farm with a farmhouse belonged to the Convent of San Martino a Mensola. At the beginning of the fifteenth century it became the 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, raised in freshwater tanks in the area.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Zanobi Lapi, a rich and cultured Florentine merchant, who had made a fortune in the luxury textile sector, bought the villa and began to build the main house, partly on pre-existing foundations. He and his two grandsons arranged the main areas of the gardens and the water pipes 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 bordered by cypresses and the bowling green , and the perpendicular east-west one that gives shape to the cabinet de rocaille (rustic cabinet), bordered by groves of holm oaks, the rear garden with its lemon house and, at the southern end, the sophisticated French parterre complete with aviary and "garenna" or "rabbit island". Statues, busts of the four seasons and urns adorn the caves and walls of the gardens.
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.