Entranced by a garden created by works in three different eras – a Baroque garden, a romantic park, and a Deco garden from the 1920s – Prince von Metternich summed up one of the most important villas in the Lucchesia as “a truly divine place”.
The garden around the villa, once owned by the Buonvisi family, and the so-called “dell’Orologio” building took on a new baroque-style faciesin the late 17th century. Main attractions are: a grotto/theatre of stone and calcareous concretions, with a semicircular basin in front of it, which partitions off the space behind the palazzo; a fishpond, a rectangular basin surrounded by high box and yew hedges, ending in Leda’s nymphaeum, with figures representing the Arnoand the Serchiorivers; a lemon garden, housing more than 200 potted citrus plants; and a famous open-air theatre with three terracotta statues of Colombina, Pantalone and Balanzone, in tribute to the Commedia dell’Arte. In the early 19th century, Elisa Baciocchi – Princess of Lucca and Piombino, and Napoleon’s sister – purchased and enlarged the property by incorporating the Bishop’s villa. She revamped the estate with an august, neoclassical look, and a 17th-century highlight garden, a vast English-style park. Irregular lawns and now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t views alternate to create a varied scene that, lower down, ends with a lake surrounded by centuries-old specimens of Liriodendron tulipifera, the tulip tree. Further changes were made in the 1920s, when French landscape architect Jacques Gréber created a Deco garden for the Pecci Blunt family. This proved to be the final precious piece of a wonderous puzzle: from the majestic romantic park to the refined Islamic-inspired water garden and its sophisticated colour combinations, running from purple bougainvillea to gold-mosaiced channels.
Behind the villa lies a semicircular basin, a water scene whose focal point is an artificial stone grotto with limestone concretions, topped with zoomorphic emblems of the city of Lucca (a lion and a panther).
Bordered by high box hedges and yew trees, this rectangular basin ends in two apses framing two fountains: on one side, the Nymphaeum of Leda and the swan, in a niche framed by caryatids, with the figures of the rivers Arno and Serchio as overtures; on the other side, a circular cupped fountain emerges from an anthropomorphic shaft depicting the Three Graces.
This extraordinary specimen of plant architecture, featuring a closed, elliptically-shaped hall enlivened by terracotta statues from the Commedia dell’Arte, was made in the late 17th century. The stage space is outlined by a succession of gently-inclined wings; topiary forms simulate stage lights, the conductor’s podium, and prompter’s box. Niccolò Paganini, who resided in Lucca when it was a Napoleonic Principality, once performed here.
The Avenue of Camellias
Winding along a former streambed, this avenue is one of the most romantic places in the entire park, especially in March when the flowers are in full bloom. The villa currently houses over forty varieties of Camellia japonica, which first arrived in Tuscany in the early 19th century.
Characterized by geometric shapes and reworked Hispano-Moorish garden archetypes, water is the generative element of this garden. Criss-crossed by slim canals and slender fountains, it culminates in an exedra decorated with golden tiles; the splashes of colour continue in the swimming pool and changing rooms.
Archbishop’s Garden Grotto
Preceded by a belvedere portico, the walls of this circular space are covered in tufa rock and fossil concretions; the geometric frame of the two-tone mosaic tiles is reflected in the radial design of the dome; the floor is divided into eight segments. Three major exedras emerge from this circular form, which has a Pan figure at its centre; four minor niches pick out a radial cross.
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For many years, this French architect worked in North America. Rather than creating gardens, he was interested in landscape architecture and urban design. He was a member of the “City Beautiful” movement.