The vast Cafaggiolo complex is situated to the north of Florence in the Mugello area, ancient home to the Medici family. The Cafaggiolo castle-cum-villa and its surrounding hamlet represents a collective unit that has been identified as one of the oldest Medici estates. It was rebuilt by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo in the fifteenth century, and is of significant interest not only for its architectural value but also for its role in history, given that for centuries it was home to the family in the very place where the dynasty’s story began.
Between the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth centuries, the Medici family embarked on a series of acquisitions of tracts of land that transformed what had been a Longobardo pagus (community) into a type of fortified grain storage complex. With time, it developed into a vast structured territory that became one of the family’s main residences.
The Medici’s dominance in the Mugello area was thus clearly demonstrated in the form of a sprawling estate, with Cafaggiolo as its epicentre, signalling the end of small privately-owned properties and independent agricultural communities that had previously existed. The castle became not only the centre and engine of the agricultural system, but also a symbol of power and prestige of what could be considered a Medici Mugello fiefdom that encompassed the surrounding podere or small farms.
On 14 September 20212, via Decree 02068, the Italian authorities declared that the “Cafaggiolo historical complex, including a section of the Bucciano Canal and the boundary wall that defines the garden” were of particular historical and artistic importance.
“If we are to call any age golden, it is beyond doubt that which brings forth golden talents in different places. […] This century, like gold, has restored to light the liberal arts, which were almost extinct: grammar, poetry, rhetoric, painting, sculpture, architecture, music and the ancient sound of Orpheus’s lyre. And all this in Florence.
In 2013 the entire Cafaggiolo complex was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with eleven other Medici villas and two Medici gardens, all in Tuscany. The organisation explained the inclusion as being due to “its notable representative value, cultural, landscape and artistic relevance; its high quality, authenticity and integrity in retaining the original aspects”.
With a broader scope than the medieval concept of hortus conclususwhich centred around enclosed gardens, Medici-style villas tended to be more open to nature to the extent that the architecture seamlessly embraced it, opening up endless possibilities. The home becomes a hotbed of leisure activities, a space designed for enjoyment and intellectual study; welcoming and stimulating people, ideas and artistic expressions. The court of Lorenzo the Magnificent was the perfect example as a place that attracted an array of philosophers, writers, poets and artists.
This architectural approach was also about fostering health and wellbeing, creating a refuge from the Plague and other epidemics while its calming atmosphere provided a haven from the political intrigue that was such an inevitable part of the chaos of city seats of power. The temporary suspension of everyday activities; time for reflection, for the arts and cultivating and sharing the fundamental value of knowledge were all made possible and nurtured by the way in which the Medici properties were designed in harmony with nature.
The perfect example of the holistic might of humankind and nature working together can be seen in the design of Italian gardens where humans made a mark by creating shapes and forms that both challenge and respect the rules that govern the sumptuous natural backdrop.
A turreted and enclosed building, surrounded by moats and protected by a drawbridge was designed by Michelozzo and commissioned by Cosimo the Elder as a fort, destined for use as a military defence. However, Cosimo himself instigated its “renaissance”, arranging for the surrounding area to be completely redone.
Vasari described how the banker set about ordering “the farms, roads, gardens and fountains to be enhanced with woods, ragnaie and other things found in the most splendid villas”. And so, in the Mugello fortress transformed into a residence, a new era began with the villa becoming a country home and a place of relaxation where, for example, Lorenzo the Magnificent hosted writers and philosophers such as Angelo Poliziano, Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino. That desire to foster ingenuity, create beauty and bring together various sources of stimulation in a fitting context is behind Marzocco Investment & Development’s decision to purchase Cafaggiolo. We have embraced the opportunity to preserve, safeguard and restore this property to its former glory through our own twenty-first century renaissance. The Medici spirit is alive and flourishing in this project, with its commitment to nurturing both body and soul in the interests of holistic wellbeing and a good life.
We envisage also that the village itself will experience a rebirth, once again becoming a vibrant part of the region. Just as Cafaggiolo once ushered in an extraordinary era of knowledge, skill and beauty, so too will its new incarnation be an intrinsic part of its surroundings. The Medici Museum and Contemporary Art Gallery will become a type of bridge between the two epochs for visitors. Sports activities, the spa, the close contact with nature and the presence of water will all contribute to guests’ wellbeing in a setting where human intervention is totally eco-sustainable. In harmony with UNESCO’s sentiments, the Marzocco Group is committed to preserving the integrity and authenticity of places through a process of thoughtful restoration and renovation, while respecting, enhancing and diversifying the original function of each property.
In developing Cafaggiolo and implementing the changes required by twenty-first century clients and lifestyles, creating permanence is the cornerstone of Marzocco Investment & Development’s involvement. We are delighted to be able to welcome Florentines back to an important piece of their extraordinary culture and history.
Just as the villa was part of a fabric in which every element was in harmony with the other, our vision is that the rediscovered Cafaggiolo will become an integral part of the territory and signal the beginning of a new golden age.