Let's talk about hidden Florence..!
In the block where the Medici Chapels (Cappelle Medicee) are, situated approximately between Via del Melarancio and Via del Giglio (from no. 29r to the portico with that magnificent front door that opens onto Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini) there was at one time an elegant residence, with a park that was so fairy-tale that it was known as ‘Gaddi’s Paradise’ (‘Paradiso dei Gaddi’).
The Gaddi, who lived in the large, characteristic house that stood on the corner between Piazza Madonna and Via dell’Amorino, had a second home at no. 13 in Via del Giglio, nowadays the Palazzo Gaddi Hotel..! This was the only house in Florence that rather than having the head of a grand-duke of Medici outside, had a grand duchess', the much-discussed Bianca Cappello (the bust is still in situ).
The area which corresponds more or less to street nos. 47r – 57r in Via del Giglio, as far as the buttress with the gateway that faces the direction of the Medici Chapels, was, in the 16th century, already a wonderful garden in which the Gaddi used to collect rare, exotic plants
‘from all over Europe but also from Egypt and other distant places … cedars … lemon trees and other things from Naples (S. Ammirato) … noble plants like the cherry tree (‘ciriegio a grappoli’) … the royal laurel (lauro regio) … the Spanish myrtle (‘mortella spagnuola’) … the gooseberry (l’uva spina) … the ‘framula’ … the smoke-tree (‘scotano’) … the ‘fruit which brings tears’, the Judas tree (A. Del Riccio)’.
The Gaddi had also built, in one part of the garden, an art gallery where they kept
‘noble marble – and bronze – statues’ and many ‘paintings by good artists’ (S. Ammirato).
Sources describe this gallery as a beautiful ‘Wunderkammer’, with such wonders as
Indian tables made of alabaster, Indian sceptres in ebony and ivory, vases made from rhinoceros horn and Egyptian urns..!
At the beginning of the 17th century the Gaddi had the artist Cigoli redesign the gates of the park with polyhedrons and a coat of arms in white marble on the pediment (the decoration with the family crest was later lost). We pass this place every day on our right when we head towards the Santa Maria Novella station, going down Via del Melarancio with Piazza Madonna behind us: we can also see it on the right (with the Medici crest, probably fake), in this engraving by Jacques Callot which portrays the grand-ducal family at the Procession of the Maidens.
When the Gaddi dynasty died out in 1796, the dispersion of the collection and the decay of the park began; the latter was bought up in 1830 by the entrepreneur Ferdinando Ulivieri, who obtained planning permission to build one-storey houses over almost the whole garden. In 1922, on top of these constructions, the elegant residential building that we can see today was erected by the new owner Cesare Galardelli: we can recognize it by the ochre-coloured façade which imitates the Florentine rusticated ashlar-work in sandstone.
At no.11 in Via del Giglio there is a placque that commemorates the English poet John Milton’s stay at Palazzo Gaddi, when the Paradiso, on the other side of the gate, could still be seen in all its glory.
So, what are you still waiting for..? Fascinating details like these are very likely to go unnoticed by you, unless you get my private walking tour of Florence..!