Villa di Castello

was the country residence of Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1519-1574). The gardens, filled with fountains, statuary, and a grotto, became famous throughout Europe. The villa also housed some of the great art treasures of Florence, including Sandro Botticelli's Renaissance masterpieces The Birth of Venus and Primavera. The gardens of the Villa had a profound influence upon the design of the Italian Renaissance garden and the later French formal garden.

Villa Castello is located in the hills northwest of Florence, near the small town of Sesto Fiorentino. The villa was located near a Roman aqueduct, and took its name from the water cisterns (castella) near the site.

A fortified building had been standing on the site since at least 1427, and was purchased in 1477 by Lorenzo and Giovanni di Pierfrancesco de'Medici, who reconstructed the old building, adding a courtyard, a loggia, kitchens and stables. The house was inherited by a famed condottiere, or mercenary soldier, Giovanni dalle Bande Nere and his wife, Maria Salviati, the parents of Cosimo, who was born in 1519, and lived in the house as a child.

In 1537, the 26-year-old Duke of Florence, Alessandro de' Medici, was assassinated, and Cosimo, though he was only seventeen and a relatively unknown member of the Medici family, was elected by the influential men of Florence to replace him. They were under the impression that they could control him, but they were mistaken. In 1537, the young Cosimo faced a rebellion by a faction which wanted to turn Florence into a Republic. He defeated them at the battle of Montemurlo, and established himself as the unrivaled ruler of the city.

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