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A Tour Of Villa Astor

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

Paradise restored on the Amalfi Coast.

One of my favourite accounts belongs to marco_mansi_ and it was Marco who posted the picture that captured my attention. I became utterly besotted with the vignette of the headless sculptures framing an entryway to a balustrade terrace looking out to Mount Vesuvius. In the foreground, a beautifully set table with magnificent tableware and fruits.

Captioned “Villa Astor”, I quickly began searching for more information about this heaven on earth. As I combed through every online page, I discovered that the Villa had an extremely rich past, as rich -one might say- as its former owner, with a heart-warming story about how it was restored to its former glory.

Perched on the cliffside on the Sorrentine Peninsula, overlooking the Bay of Naples, you will find Villa Astor. Built on Roman ruins dating back to 1 A.D, this Neoclassical Villa has some of the finest views in the world and certainly one of Europe’s most beautiful gardens. The Villa was purchased by William Waldorf Astor on the 10th April 1905. At the time, Astor was one of the world’s wealthiest individuals and he was also the American ambassador to Rome. Astor would frequently travel to Sorrento to escape Rome’s summer heat. Whilst in Sorrento, Astor fell in love with the Villa. He purchased it from a Calabrian family of nobility, along with the gardens, fruit and olive orchards, a small vineyard and two grottos.

William Waldorf Astor. Image Courtesy of NY Times
The Roman ruins dating back to 1 A.D

“Without an Italian Garden and without an atmosphere of Italy about him he could not live. Italy is in his blood, and when he goes to his delicious villa in Sorrento I don’t doubt he is more at home than in his Tudor castle except that he cannot gather about him so many friends” – George W. Smalley, Mr. William Waldorf Astor and his Experiences in England, New York, 1912.

The restoration process was started and Astor spared no expense. Wainscoting, hand painted ceilings and parquet flooring in every room. Astor added his treasure trove of antiquities, furniture, sculptures and objects of art, purchased via his Parisian agent Fernand Robert, and Attilio Simonetti in Rome.

Assisted by Simonetti, in 1910 Astor also began to build Villa Florus on the east side of the garden. Here once stood the crumbling monastery of San Martino. The design for Villa Florus was based upon a Pompeian villa and decorated with frescos by Mario Spinetti. Villa Florus was furnished throughout with ancient sculpture and original Pompeian pieces acquired by Astor.

Astor began to purchase land and buildings surrounding the Villa and set out his elaborate plans for the gardens. He was in a constant search for a bygone golden-age which would offer him solace from a world he found to be ugly and cruel. He wanted an idyllic antique retreat for reverie where he could enjoy his collection of art. Astor thoroughly enjoyed his time in Sorrento and it was here, it was said, that he was at his happiest.

William Waldorf Astor died in 1919. In 1921, along with most of its sculptures and furnishings, Villa Astor was sold to a wealthy Dutchman, Gerrard Hero Omko Geertsema. Geertsema renamed the residence Villa Tritone. Thankfully a few pieces from Villa Astor were retained and shipped to Hever Castle, another Astor estate, in England.

In 2012 the Villa was sold to a new owner who commissioned Jacques Garcia to orchestrate a remodelling to render it as the ideal setting to showcase Astor’s extraordinary collection of antiquities. The Villa today is a luxurious home containing all modern amenities yet it still retains the quiet refinement of a nineteenth century Mediterranean villa. Astor’s legacy is seen throughout the Villa where his exquisitely curated masterpieces of art, architecture and design are displayed.

This volume traces the splendid history of the legendary house, garden, art collection and life of one of the world’s most enigmatic tycoons.

Villa Astor: Paradise Restored on the Amalfi Coast.

Image Courtesy of Flammarion.

All Images courtesy of The Heritage Collection.

- Ahmer x
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