One of the prime attractions to visit if you find yourself in the Miami area is the lovely Vizcaya Mansion and Gardens. This family home was built by industrialist James Deering, who filled it with European antiques and treasures.
Completed in 1916, it has 10 acres of formal gardens, also in Italianate Renaissance style, which run down to the private harbor and Biscayne Bay.
Originally the estate covered 180 acres which Deering used for into lagoon gardens, formal landscaping, tropical hammock, farmland and preserved swamp. The land was later sold off to help pay for maintenance of the lavish villa and the Mercy Hospital, just across the road, was built on a large parcel of Viscaya’s former gardens.
This elegant villa is now a US National Historic Landmark and well deserves being preserved for future generations. Owned by Miami-Dade County, it is open to the public daily. If you do not fancy driving to the home in upmarket Coconut Grove, it is very easy to reach from the Miami Metrorail.
Walk through the entrance to the property and see the replica caravel ship once used by explorers. This replica “Bel Vizcaya” was the emblem of Vizcaya. After purchasing a ticket, enjoy exploring the grounds until your guided tour starts. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, as it is now known, has more than 70 rooms, many furnished with numerous original antiques.
The typical Italianate hand painted tiles, inner courtyard with its trickling water fountain and ornate balcony features make this a lovely property to look around. Such is the opulence of the villa that it has been used for several state occasions including Ronald Reagan receiving Pope John Paul II in 1987 and Bill Clinton hosting his First Summit of the Americas in 1994.
The Building of Viscaya
Viscaya Museum and Gardens reflects Venetian and Tuscan influenced architecture with ornate baroque detail. It was designed by Paul Chalfin for James Deering, who had made his fortune from the McCormick-International Harvester empire. It was completed in 1916, although the surrounding estate “village” and gardens were not completed until 1923. Deering used it as his winter residence until 1925, when he died.
He employed over 1000 craftsmen in the building of his home. Deering had no wife or children but Charles Deering, his half-brother, developed the beautiful Deering Estate nearby.
Take a close look at the garden walls and see the Florida coral limestone, known as coquina. You can still see the compressed corals and shells embedded in the soft stone, which makes a beautiful effect, particularly for this bayfront property.
Along with Deering, his project director helped him fill the elaborate mansion with furnishings, art and antiques. They traveled throughout Europe buying not only the antiques but also doors, fireplaces, and ceilings to incorporate into the design. The garden was designed by Diego Suarez and was influenced by the gardens at Villa La Pietra in Florence, so you are in for a real treat!
Steps lead up through the ornate themed gardens, there are Italian style pools and the pièce de résistance is the Italian barge, carved out of stone as a feature in the bay.
Viscaya suffered hurricane damage in 1925 and 1935 and needed extensive restoration over the years. Eventually the heirs sold much of the prime land for development and donated the main house and gardens to Dade County who now maintain and run the property as a public museum. It is a beautiful and most unusual place to visit and is sure to enhance any time spent in the cosmopolitan city of Miami.