Hidden from view

Uncovering a Florentine secret: the Corsini gardens

Sophie Kruijsdijk
May 9, 2013

Within its walls, Palazzo Corsini in via il Prato holds a garden of unmatched loveliness and tranquility. Breathtaking beauty leads you through lush green citrus trees, past imposing statues to finally lose yourself in a heavily shaded labyrinth. And the best thing: no one is there. Florence can be somewhat overwhelming at times, with hundreds upon hundreds of people simultaneously trying to catch a glimpse of the wonders this city has to offer. Don’t follow the crowds for a change. Instead, allow yourself to marvel at this quiet sanctuary that is far from the tourist trail.


Palazzo Corsini al Prato was created by Renaissance architect Bernardo Buontalenti in 1594, who amongst his many great works, is said, not unimportantly, to have invented Italian gelato (see TF 143 and page 7 for information on this year’s Firenze Gelato Festival). The building was commissioned by an aristocrat with a passion for botany who wished to have a villa in the city centre, surrounded by a large park. (Well, who doesn’t?) A few years later, however, construction had to be interrupted due to the aristocrat’s financial difficulties. It was only continued in 1620 when the Corsini family bought the property. Filippo Corsini had Gherardo Silvani create an Italian garden, adorned with statues that can still be found today. Skillfully done, the difference in height between the statues creates an effect that makes the garden look even bigger than it really is.


The Corsini family reached its glory days with the election of Lorenzo Corsini as Pope Clement XII in 1730. Until the 1800s, the palazzo was used only as a summer residence; Palazzo Corsini, along lungarno Corsini, was the official dwelling place of the family. In the mid-1800s, then marquis Neri Corsini decided to make the villa at Il Prato into his humble abode. Among the reconstruction projects, he commissioned work like the large balcony at the front so he could have a perfect view of the Palio dei Berbieri. This jockeyless horse race was held until 1870, with the course from via Ponte alle Mosse to porta alla Croce, the current piazza Beccaria. The empty stables and antique carriages in an area of the palazzo, which are unfortunately closed to the public, still remind us of these glorious equestrian days.


The garden contains about 180 citrus plants, has three big lemon-houses and provides a home for about a hundred turtles. A 52-metre-deep well supplies the immense garden with water. Because of the family’s love of dogs, statues representing these loyal animals are to be found throughout the garden. Two of them occasionally move from their doghouse to the shade under the pillared balcony where they once again turn into immobile garden decoration.


The last renovation works on the property were done in 1980, commissioned by the presently residing prince Filippo and princess Giorgiana Corsini. The latter organizes the annual Florentine celebration of craft, Artigianato e Palazzo, with the garden as its magnificent setting. Last year, the four-day happening attracted an impressive 8,000 visitors. Running from May 16 to 19 this year, its mission is to exhibit the fine skills that are involved in manufacturing (literally ‘hand making’) and ‘to preserve the age-old traditions of artisans and craftsmen,’ as its website (www.artigianatoepalazzo.it) states.


Can’t make it to the fair this May? Luckily for you the garden can be visited year round upon reservation and for an entrance fee (call 340/2514033 for details). Another way to  enjoy the garden with Città Nascosta (‘the hidden city’), the cultural association that unveils the hidden treasures of Florence and Tuscany. See www.cittanascosta.it for more information.

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