Seven miles north of Florence rests a giant treasure from the Renaissance known as Colosso dell'Appennino, or the Appennine Colossus. The 35 foot tall gigantic sculpture is found in Villa Demidoff and was built by the 16th century Italian sculptor Giambologna. He guards the pond in front of him and the grottoes inside his belly. His beard is heavy with stalactites and by his pose one can tell his heart is heavy with time itself. But the Colossus isn't merely a statue... it's also a building. There are chambers inside his body, and even a fireplace in his head that when lit would allow smoke to come out of his nose. One special room could hold a small orchestra to play music for people visiting the site.
He used to have other neighboring bronze statues, many of which were lost or stolen. The massive brick and stone structure has stood for centuries in the same spot, weathered and worn, but still magnificent. The park that the colossus is situated in, once built as an estate for the mistress of an Italian duke, serves as the perfect setting for the gentle giant. The colossus suggests a bond between man and Nature himself.
Perhaps if Giambologna had built his Colossus in a grand piazza in Florence, it would would now be considered one of the greatest masterpieces in the world, but alas, it resides off the beaten path and is little known. The masonry Colossus once had rooms, caves and inner passageways, and even a hydraulic system that connected the head of the giant to the various water sources in his body, and the fountain that poured from the fish he is squeezing. Today it has some visitors, but no where near the number it deserves.
Truth be told, the Park of Pratolino, where the giant resides, is one of the most beautiful parks in the area surrounding Florence. Other treats here include the beautiful Chapel of Buontalenti with its hexagonal plan; behind the Colossus is a fantastic Dragon; below it is a decorated grotto. If you don't go behind the immense statue, you might miss seeing it. There is also the Cupid's Grotto by Buontaltenti; the large aviary; the Maschera Fishpond originally used for hot baths; and the Fountain of Jupiter. Some of these can be visited only upon request. The park is open every weekend and has recently become a UNESCO World Heritage site. Guided tours, even during the week, can be booked by directly calling the park, and all at no cost. Yes, there is no entrance fee to this park.
So if you are in Florence and are looking for the unusual, just 7 miles north of the town this Giant slumbers waiting to awaken your imagination. I'd recommend lunching in Fiesole, then moving on to Pratolino afterwards. Or do it in reverse and watch the sun set over Florence from Fiesole and enjoy a dinner and wine with talks of dragons and giants...
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