In 1473 a ruined fortified house at Poggio a Caiano, called the Ambra, and land and a mill owned by Giovanni Rucellai, were bought by Lorenzo de' Medici. First, agricultural improvements were carried out; then in 1485 work started on the Medici Villa del Poggio, the "Villa on the Hill", to designs by Giuliano da Sangallo commissioned by Lorenzo. Prior to the building of this villa large country dwellings were defensive, fortified and with rooms looking into a central courtyard. Built on a quadrangular base around a large central hall with rooms having windows overlooking the surrounding countryside, the Villa del Poggio was revolutionary. At Lorenzo’s death in 1492 the villa remained largely unfinished, work being resumed when Lorenzo’s second son, Giovanni, became pope as Leo X. The central hall is named after this first Medici pope.
In the following century the villa was used by the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany; in 1587 Francis, the second Grand Duke, and Bianca Capello died there within a day of one another after short illnesses, raising the still unsolved question of their poisoning by Francis’s brother Ferdinand, who became the third Grand Duke. In the 17th and 18th centuries the architects Giuseppe and Giovan Battista Ruggeri and Antonio Maria Ferri made additions to the villa. Major improvements to the gardens were also carried out after it came into the ownership of Maria Luisa of Spain, Queen of Etruria. Following the Risorgimento it was refurbished and used by Vittorio Emanuele II of Italy. The villa was donated to the Italian state in 1919. After a long period of neglect it became a national museum in 1984 and since that date has undergone restoration. It is now open to the public.
The main attractions of the villa are the Pontormo frescoes depicting Vertumnus and Pomona in the main salon. Most of the interior is barren of its original furniture, and its furnishings are being restored to recreate the villa as described in an inventory of 1911, when the villa was a Savoyard residence. The formal gardens, now somewhat wild, slope down to the River Ombrone at the rear of the villa.