The History of Villa la Fonte, Bel Riposo
Since its creation in 2006 the Max Weber Programme has been housed in the early fifteenth century Villa la Fonte at San Domenico di Fiesole. The villa takes its name from a well in the garden, but it is also known as 'Bel Riposo', literally 'beautiful restful place'.
The building originally belonged to the Bruni family whose most celebrated member was Leonardo Bruni (1370-1444), humanist, writer and chancellor of the Florentine Republic. His grandson Francesco sold the villa to the Roman family Neroni di Nigi. The Villa was later inherited by the Pandolfini family who owned it until the mid-18th century, and who carried out major works to improve and enlarge the property.
In the 19th century, at a time when Florence was often visited by British citizens, the building became the Hotel della Gran Bretagna. Later on, at the end of the century, the Villa was bought by a family of railway magnates, the Smiths, who enlarged the gardens to what they are today.
This was a lively time for Villa la Fonte, and its visitors included the rich and famous, including Mark Twain. Charity shows and performances were organised in the open-air theatre. A 'pratone', or large lawn was created to play cricket. The tennis court, one of the oldest in Florence, also dates from this period. After World War II the Smiths sold the property. Upon their deaths they were laid to rest in the San Domenico cemetary.
After the Smiths the villa passed to the publishers Vallecchi until the end of the 1950s when the Marinai family bought it. The Marinai family are still its owners and have carried out major restoration of the villa and gardens.
These gardens are spectacular for their size, with a division between a large formal garden extending over a sloping area of about two hectares and a wilder garden, shaded by monumental cypresses, cedars and ilexes, contrasting with the sunny areas of the lawn and bordered by pergolas and hedges. The garden borders on the grounds of the famous Fiesole Scuola di Musica.
Our thanks go to Sig.ri Marinai and Pallanti for their help in compiling this brief history.