Garden of the Villa Reale di Marlia

Villa Pecci-Blunt

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The earliest records of Villa Reale di Marlia date back to 1517, when the Buonvisi family purchased the property from the Avvocati family. In 1651 it passed into the hands of Oliviero and Lelio Orsetti, and it was these new owners who, as a late 18th century print demonstrates, redesigned the garden and built the so-called Palazzina dell'Orologio, or "clockhouse". This building has a loggia over the doorway, with a raised section above containing the clock that gives the building its name. The building was called "'Marly", in memory of a villa of the same name that existed near Paris at the time of Louis XIV.

In the early 19 C, Elisa Baciocchi Bonaparte simultaneously bought Villa Marlia from Lelio Orsetti, and Villa del Vescovo from the Mensa Arcivescovile, and immediately set to work to renovate her two new properties. Her aim was to join them together and redesign the late-Renaissance Orsetti villa in the Neoclassical style. The term "royal" was added to the name when the villa became the official residence of Elisa, queen of Etruria. After the Napoleonic period, the property passed first into the hands of the Bourbons and then to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, to the Crown, to the Bourbons of Capua and finally, in 1923, to the Pecci-Blunt counts, who restored the building and the garden.

The garden, which was originally laid out in the second half of the 17 C, with an upper part that has remained largely unchanged, includes a large lawn in front of the building, behind which is the so-called "water theatre" that extends around a large semi-circular pool adorned with statues of gods, water-spewing grotesque masks, terracotta tubs of flowers and, above, a topiary hedge. Of the two axes running parallel to the main axis of the villa, one is a long avenue leading to the clockhouse, while the other extends from the lemon garden, which consists of four flower-based rectangles and a large fishpond (20x10 m). The pool is surrounded by a balustrade ending in a fine exedra in tufa and smooth stone, with a statue group in a niche depicting "Leda and the Swan". Around the pool opposite the exedra are sculptures of giants representing the Arno and the Serchio rivers. Both figures spout water. 

Another axis, running at right angles to the first, comprises a vestibule and the "Teatro di Verzura". This "garden theatre", built in 1652, is 24 m deep, and is formed by yew hedges that surround the stone seats, which are arranged in a semi-circle. Other seats for spectators are situated in the boxes, with niche windows cut out of the semi-circular hedge. The line separating the audience from the stage takes the form of a green curtain and a sequence of spherical bushes imitating footlights. The stage has a series of slightly tilted wings, 5.5 m in height, with terracotta statues in between, representing the stock characters from the commedia dell'arte, Punchinella, Columbine and Pantaloon. At the centre, between the stage and the orchestra pit, are two topiary forms representing the conductor's podium and the prompter's box.

While the upper part of the garden retains its 17 C layout virtually intact, the lower part was greatly altered by the addition by Elisa Baciocchi, of the lower garden of the Villa del Vescovo and other land, as a result of which it was possible to double the size of the large lawn in front. The new layout was organised around asymmetrical groups of trees and slightly sloping lawns, in keeping with the romantic taste for natural vistas, a typical feature of the English-style garden.

In the lower part, next to the Villa del Vescovo, a lake was created and surrounded by woods populated by roe-dear, goats and merino sheep and criss-crossed by streams and avenues shaded by various species of tree, including beech, pine, oak, holm-oak, lime, plane, ginko, maple and horse chestnut. The only remaining 17 C elements are the little church and nymphaeum, known as "Pan's Grotto", an area in two parts, one of which is square, the other in a closed circular design, decorated with pebbles to recreate a natural grotto.

The nymphaeum was subsequently connected by two flights of steps to the art deco-style flower garden, designed by J. Greber around 1920. This rectangular garden, designed in accordance with the principles of the Islamic garden, has a large pool with water channels lead off from it, and grassy flower-beds. Next to the Villa del Vescovo is a small garden on two levels, the lower of which consists of rectangular flower-beds bordered by box hedges, is enclosed on two sides by the boundary wall of the upper villa's upper terrace, decorated with niches containing statues. When the Pecci-Blunt counts purchased this property, they faithfully recreated the park's original collection of plants.

Access to the park is through an elegant entrance between two palazzine, which Elisa Baciocchi had built in the Neoclassical style. One of these serves as the lodgings of the caretaker, and has in front of it a semi-circular courtyard adorned with large, Neoclassical white marble vases.

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