the main villa
Located in the hills of Settignano, in a splendid panoramic position overlooking the city of Florence and the Arno valley, Villa Gamberaia stands in the place where documents of the late ‘300 attest the presence of a farmhouse with a farmhouse belonging to the convent of S. Martino a Mensola. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the farm was bought by Matteo di Domenico, who later adopted the surname Gamberelli. Two of his sons, Bernardo and Antonio Rossellino, were among the most famous architects and sculptors of the time. The name of the town, and with it the surname Gamberelli, can probably be traced back to the shrimps that were then caught in the nearby fresh water basins.
At the beginning of the 1600s, Zanobi Lapi, a wealthy and cultured Florentine merchant, enriched by trading luxury fabrics, bought the villa and started the construction of the main body, exploiting, in part, existing foundations. It is to him and his two nephews that we must reconcile the two main areas of the garden and create the ingenious system of fountains. A century later, the estate, which now comprised about fifteen farmhouses, passed into the hands of the Marquises Capponi. Thanks to the works that they made you perform, the villa soon entered the list of the most beautiful Florentine villas. In an ancient plant of the estate (c.1725-30) and in the engravings of Giuseppe Zocchi (c.1744) we can already clearly see the elements that still characterize the villa: the two longitudinal axes, oriented from north to south , the driveway shaded by rows of cypress trees and the long lawn avenue, the bowling-green, the transversal axis, running from east to west, which gives shape to the cabinet of rocaille (rustic cabinet), bordered by groves of oaks, the backyard with its lemon-house and, at the southern end, the sophisticated French parterre complete with aviary and “garenna” or “island of the 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 period 1896-98) and the American MatildaCassLedyard, baroness von Ketteler, who gave the garden the predominantly “evergreen” character and the architectural forms that we can still admire today (c.1925-1935).
After its partial destruction during the II World War, in 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 BalthazarKorab (1966), which restored them to their former glory. In 1994, the ownership of the villa passed to his daughter Franca († 1998) and her husband Luigi Zalum, who continued the work of conservation and restoration started by his father. Formerly from the Serbian principality of Zahlum (today Herzegovina) the Zalum family is known for its mercantile and banking activities that have been practicing in the city of Livorno since the early 1700s.
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