The big news in Florence. Last night a local idiot climbed up Bartolomeo Ammannati’s fountain of Neptune in the Piazza Signoria and as he stepped into “Il Biancone’s” hand, it broke off and the vandal fell, crashing into the clamshell fountain below.The fountain has been there since 1565. Some reports were that the vandal died; others said he was brought to a nearby hospital in bad shape. The newspapers were calling the tragedy the revenge of Il Biancone. Our friends Paola and Fabrizio explained the vandal was from Scandicci, as if it was normal behavior for people from Scandicci.
The Brenta river is more or less an extension of the canal system from Venice, about as wide as a canal, only longer. It leads out to the countryside where wealthy nobles built fabulous villas to escape the noise and heat in the summer months. We thought we’d see lots of works by Palladio, but Palladio died in 1570 and most of the villas were built in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. There were a few by the master, but most of them were later copies.
After a few wrong turns, closed villas and bad news from apartment renters in Paris (see the 2005 Owning an Apartment post) we drove past a sign noting that we were now leaving “Malcontenta”. This made us laugh, and sure enough, everything brightened up again.
As the story goes, a 17th century wife of one of the Foscari family, Francesco Foscari was a 15th century Doge of Venice, was ostracized from Venetian society and locked up in Villa Foscari on the Brenta, one of the few Palladian Villas along the river. She was known as La Malcontenta because she wasn’t very happy living in the country. We are still fascinated with what she could have done that would have gotten her booted from the city. 17th century Venitian society was incredibly wild. The official explanation was that “she didn’t live up to her conjugal duties” but I’m sure there’s a much better story. Anyway, these days the Villa Foscari is also known as the Villa Malcontenta. In fact, the whole town is known as of Malcontenta.
We arrived to the small Brenta river town of Mira Porte around 12noon on Monday, August 8th, and as it turned out, all the villas were closed on Mondays. No problem, we drove to the port of Fusina (about 20km away) and hopped the ferry boat to Venice. There is always something to do and see in Venice and the boat ride in from Fusina is great.
The following day we arrived early to the grand 18th century Villa Pisani, built for the Doge Pisani in the early 1700’s. It’s in the style of Palladio but built over 200 years after his death. Nonetheless, it’s really big, really really big. You gotta hand it to the Doges. If the villa in the city is big, the country estate should be….well, much bigger.
This was such an impressive villa that Napolean stayed there (his furnishings are still present), Vittorio Emanuale II spend a night there and Hitler and Mussolini had a meeting there. Looking from the one of the bedrooms in the main house we saw another splendid villa behind the splendid villa. We were certain it was the Doge’s private house until we walked all the way back there only to find out it was the facade of the Doge’s horse stables.
The most fun of the Pisani visit was the maze, an authentic 7’ high boxwood hedge maze with a tower in the center. When you eventually get to the tower it’s so much fun to watch everyone else walking into dead ends. It took us about 20 minutes to find our way to the center; less time to find our way out since everyone in the tower would yell directions to us. We could only imagine what it was like to be totally drunk and costumed trying to find your way through the maze at night, lit only by candles and torches.
The last Villa we visited was the 18th century Villa Widmann-Foscari. The grand ballroom of the ground floor included a balcony for musicians and fabulous frescoed walls but the real treat here is the garden of godly statues. If we could have a sculpture garden, a lot of it would look like this. The climate of the Veneto has created a warm mossy patina over the marble. It really works well.