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The gardens of the Villa Reale in Marlia, pure delight
The park of the Villa Reale in Marlia, in the Lucchesia region, is one of the most beautiful in Tuscany, a wonderful place where you can walk amongst the green, discover the places of delight that belonged to the aristocracy and have a picnic. Of the many monumental villas in the Lucchesia, Marlia is the most spectacular.
The dream of Napoleon's sister
Of early medieval origins, the complex belonged at the beginning of the 19th century to Napoleon's sister, Princess Elisa Bonaparte of Lucca, who enlarged it and also created an English garden in the large park, one of few in Italy. The villa was later assigned to the Bourbons, who continued to use it as a court residence, then to King Victor Emmanuel II, and, after a number of setbacks, was purchased by the Pecci Blunt counts in 1923.
The Pecci Blunt counts oversaw the renovation of the park, entrusting it to a renowned French architect, Jacques Greber, who created streams, woods, a lake and other landscape elements that we can still appreciate today. In recent years, the villa complex in Marlia has been the subject of an extensive restoration project by its current owners, allowing it to reopen to the public in 2019.
In the oldest part of the garden is Pan's grotto, a nymphaeum built between 1570 and 1580, dedicated to the deity of shepherds and the countryside. On the outside, it is characterised by wide arcades beyond which one enters a cave-like environment decorated with carved heads and niches. The work is attributed to Bernardo Buontalenti, the same artist who created the grotto in the Boboli Gardens in Florence.
The two Italian gardens
Dating back to the 17th century, the Italian-style garden of the Marlia villa has come down to us after various transformations and is divided into two parts: the upper hanging garden, on the terrace, at the centre of which is a magnificent magnolia, and the lower garden, with the classic square flowerbeds enclosed by hedges containing boxwood plants pruned into spherical shapes. The statues in the niches and the gravel paths as pink as the boundary wall create an overall harmony.
The oldest Verzura Theatre
Built between 1666 and 1670, the Villa di Marlia's Verzura theatre is the oldest in Europe, an extraordinary testimony to the taste of the time to equip the most important gardens with natural open-air theatres made of vegetation: the stage is a lawn, the curtains are sculpted yew hedges adorned with terracotta statues representing characters from the commedia dell'arte. Theatrical performances are still held in this place of delight, where Niccolò Paganini played his violin for Elisa Bonaparte.
The Camellia Avenue
The first camellias in the Marlia villa were brought from the Royal Palace of Caserta, ordered by Elisa Bonaparte for her brother Joseph, then on the throne of Naples, as rare exotic plants. It is thanks to Elisa that today camellias are a characteristic element of this magnificent area.
Camellias are plants of Asian origin that have acclimatised very well in the Lucchesia region, so much so that the famous Exhibition of Ancient Camellias is held here at the beginning of March. The plants in the park have of course been refreshed and enriched with new varieties, allowing the extraordinary diversity of colours and shapes to be appreciated.
The Spanish garden and swimming pool
Among the innovations introduced by Greber's work in the 1920s, we find the Spanish Art Deco garden characterised by geometric shapes, the presence of water fountains and the flowering of hibiscus, climbing roses, evonimiums and hypericum. We also owe the lake to Greber, which today is one of the most important landscape elements of the entire garden, as well as a functional structure for the proper irrigation of the park. In the heated swimming pool (very modern for the time), built in 1928 along with tennis, bowling and croquet courts, the writer Alberto Moravia and the artist Salvador Dalì were among the many guests of the Pecci Blunt.
The olfactory route
The great botanical biodiversity of the park at the Villa di Marlia, which was restored thanks to the work begun in 2015, now makes it possible to transform every visit into a sensory experience where you can be guided above all by your sense of smell. There are so many scents and essences that welcome visitors to the park in every season, and they are the same that Elisa Bonaparte and the many distinguished guests of her residence must have enjoyed.
To find out more
The villa and gardens in Marlia are open daily from March to early November and November to December only at weekends. Dogs are allowed.
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