The Palazzo Baroncelli, named after the family who had built a "manor house" on the hill of Arcetri, became the Medici Villa del Poggio Imperiale in 1565 when Cosimo I confiscated it from Alessandro Salviati, enemy of the Medici family, and donated it to his beloved daughter Isabella and her husband Paolo Giordano Orsini. The villa is located about a kilometre from Porta Romana and dominates the Ema valley on one side and the entire city of Florence on the other. The villa was Isabella de' Medici's favourite place. She was a woman with refined notions, who chose to hold numerous cultural activities inside the villa. Several documents from the Lorraine period also indicate that the villa was connected to the Boboli garden, via an underground corridor, reaching the Forte Belvedere, but this has never been proven.
The Villa del Poggio Imperiale was purchased by the Grand Duchess Maria Maddalena of Austria in 1622 and was considerably enlarged and embellished thanks to a project by Giulio Parigi, with an impressive access road that connected it to the square of Porta Romana. The work was finished in 1624 and, since then, the villa has been called "del Poggio Imperiale" in memory and in honour of the grand duchess who had renovated it.
Almost a century later, the villa underwent new construction work when Pietro Leopoldo chose the villa as his residence in 1765, because of the beauty of the spaces and of the location. The architect Niccolò Gaspero Maria Paoletti was commissioned with the work and transformed the original T-plan layout into a large compact rectangular space, giving the villa two large courtyards symmetrical to the older central one.
In 1806, Maria Luisa of Bourbon, queen of Etruria, commissioned Paquetti's pupil Pasquale Poccianti to rebuild the neoclassical facade. Of this project, only the central portico made of ashlars and with five arches and lateral ramps was built.
Later on, Elisa Baciocchi, Napoleon's sister, commissioned Giuseppe Cacialli to complete the work on the portico, which was raised by one level, with a loggia formed by five ionic arches with a triangular pediment on top, decorated with bas-reliefs.
In 1814, the works for the construction of the two lateral foreparts followed, with arcades on the same facade: this permanently the alternating interventions being carried out on the villa, leaving it with the current neoclassical features.
In 1864, with the imminent transfer of the capital from Turin to Florence, the government handed over the villa to the Boarding School for Girls of the Santissima Annunziata in Florence, which still occupies it.