In 1568, Francesco I dei Medici purchased the land of Pratolino and entrusted it to the architect Bernardo Buontalenti for the ambitious project of building an allegorical park, to be given as a gift to his beloved wife Bianca Cappello. Not a classic Italian garden but a revolutionary place that, with the symbols carved in stone and in nature, could connect the earth to the sky. A place based on the concept of time, divided into an Old Park with ancient teachings, and a New Park with contemporary knowledge.
In the organisation of the park, the "cult of the axis" is predominant, meaning the great longitudinal alignment that made the villa, which no longer exists, the focal point of the park itself, in the middle between two large avenues: that of the Zampilli to the south and that of the Apennines to the north.
Water is the protagonist in the park, which is full of sophisticated devices, sounds, water features, the wonders of which have been narrated by illustrious visitors.
The statue of the god Jupiter, created by the sculptor Baccio Bandinelli, was made to "play" and move thanks to the use of a key. The water continued up to the cistern of the stables building and then converged towards the statue of the Giant of the Apennines, created by Giambologna between 1579 and 1583. The large sponge stone was brought especially from Corsica in 1584 and placed at the centre of a pool, on an octagonal lawn.
Other water pipes descended to feed the Fonte del Perseo (Fountain of Perseus), the Fonte di Esculapio (Fountain of Asclepius) and the Fontana dell’Orsa (Fountain of the Bear). The water finally reached the villa and then, passing underground, the Galatea Fountain and other fountains.
In the New Park, water fed the two Fountains of Hunger and of the God Pan, where a marble statue was placed in the middle. Further downstream, from the sides of the Viale degli Zampilli, water features formed a pergola.
The main water course ended at a marble pool known as the Lavandaia (washerwoman). There were also numerous secondary ducts, which were those that fed the Peschiera della Maschera (Fishpond of the Mask) and the Statue of Cupid; one of these served the Fountain of Ammannati and then continued to the fishpond of the artificial Mount Parnassus. In the end, all the waters were rationally collected in the Pescaione, which was located at the bottom of the New Park, and were used to move two mills and an oil mill.
However, the garden had high maintenance costs: at the end of the 18th century, Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo moved many of the park's statues to the Boboli Gardens. In 1814, Ferdinando III began the reorganisation of Pratolino and during the work it was decided that the sixteenth-century villa would be demolished and replaced with another Neoclassical style one. However, in 1824, Ferdinando died and the building was never built. The Lorraine-Hapsburgs later gave up the park to the Demidoff princes and, in 1981, the garden was purchased by the Provincial Administration of Florence.
Informations: Medici villas and gardens - Garden of Pratolino