Villa Palmieri, Fiesole

Villa Palmieri, Fiesole

The Villa Palmieri, is a patrician villa in the picturesque town of Fiesole that overlooks Florence, Italy. The villa's gardens on slopes below the piazza S. Domenico of Fiesole are credited with being the paradisal setting for the frame story of Boccaccio's "Decamerone". The villa's entrance from the town is in via Giovanni Boccaccio.


The villa was certainly in existence at the end of the fourteenth century, when it was a possession of the Fini, who sold it in 1454 to the noted humanist scholar Marco Palmieri, whose name it still bears. In 1697, Palmiero Palmieri commenced a restructuring of the gardens, sweeping away all vestiges of the earlier garden to create a south-facing terrace, an arcaded loggia of five bays and the symmetrically paired curved stairs ("a tenaglia") that lead to the lemon garden in the lower level. The often-photographed lemon garden survives, [Illustrated, for example, in Georgina Masson, "Otalian Gaddeens" fig. 46, p. 98.] though postwar renovation stripped the baroque decors from the villa's stuccoed façade. [The terracotta bust of Matteo Palmieri by Antonio Rossellino (1468) once in an exterior niche of the villa is now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.]

Boccaccio's description of the villa in Fiesole where his young people retreated from the Black Death raging in Florence to tell stories is too general to identify any one villa securely:

Il veder questo giardino, il suo bello ordine, le piante e la fontana co' ruscelletti procedenti da quella, tanto piacque a ciascuna donna e a' tre giovani che tutti cominciarono ad affermare che, se Paradiso si potesse in terra fare, non sapevano conoscere che altra forma che quella di quel giardino gli si potesse dare. ["To see this garden, its handsome ordering, the plants, and the fountain with rivulets issuing from it, was so pleasing to each lady and the three young men that all began to affirm that, if Paradise could be made on earth, they couldn't conceive a form other than that of this garden that might be given it." (Boccaccio, "Il Decamerone", Introduction to the Third Day.)]

In 1760, when Florence had developed a considerable English community, the villa was acquired by the 3rd Earl Cowper. [Elizabeth Gibson, "Earl Cowper in Florence and his correspondence with the Italian opera in London", "Music and Letters" 68.3, 1987:235-252] Alexandre Dumas, père spent some time there, and collected his Florentine travel essays under the title "La Villa Palmieri" (Paris, 1843). In 1873 it was purchased by James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford who recreated part of the grounds in the fashionable English naturalistic landscape manner of parkland dotted with specimen trees, but provided also with the exotic tender plants that could not be grown in the open in England. His commissions included also the scenic basin of the Fountain of Three Faces and a little chapel in neo-Baroque manner to one side of the villa.

"Unlike the Gamberaia, " Georgina Masson observed, "Villa Palmieri has suffered from having been a 'show-place' and the alterations of many owners to suit the fashions of their day, so that little of its original character remains." [Masson p. 99.] Today the oldest remaining parts of Villa Palmieri are the oval geometric garden [The garden measures 173 feet across, according to Chip Sullivan and Marc Treib, "Garden and Climate", 2002:119f.] of lemons which are set out in warm weather ranged round the central circular basin, itself framed in quadrant spandrels, all framed in clipped low boxwood hedging, following an eighteenth-century engraving of this garden space by Giuseppe Zocchi. The upper terrace is supported on the vaults of the "limonaia", glazed in the nineteenth century, where the lemon trees were protected from the very occasional hard frost. Some labels on trees record three visits of Queen Victoria to Villa Palmieri, in 1888, 1893 [Described in detail in "The Graphic", 18 March 1893.] and 1894. [Masson , "eo. loc."; [ [ Villa Palmieri] .]

The "Villetta", an outbuilding formerly part of the extensive Villa Palmieri grounds, was purchased in 1927 by Myron Taylor, the American ambassador to the Holy see, who recreated a Beaux-Arts version of an Italian terraced garden and named it Villa Schifanoia. [The "Villetta" was described and illustrated by Harold Donaldson Eberlein, "Villas of Florence and Tuscany" 1922:177ff.] The relations of the Villa and the "Villetta" in an earlier day are represented in the landscape background of Botticini's "Assumption of the Virgin" painted for Matteo Palmieri and unfinished at his death in 1475. [ [ Assumption of the Virgin" (National Gallery)] ]


*"Giardini di Toscana, a cura della Regione Toscana", (Florence: Edifir) 2001.
*Masson, Georgina, "Italian Gardens".
*Wharton, Edith, "Italian Villas and their Gardens".


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