Bees at Villa Medici

Since March 2021, Villa Medici has been home to a new kind of Fellow: honeybees of the subspecies Apis mellifera ligustica, endemic to the Italian peninsula. Six hives have been installed for them in the bosco, the wooded part of the gardens, among the holm oaks and acanthus trees, overlooking the orange tree avenue.

The idea of establishing an apiary at Villa Medici – which has had several in the past, but not for at least twenty years – was born in front of a sixteenth-century fresco painted by Jacopo Zucchi in the Pavilion of Ferdinand de’ Medici: the Stanza degli ucelli (the “bird room”), which depicts a magnificent trunk hive hanging from a tree. A working bee is also engraved on the top of the obelisk on the internal piazzale of the Villa. Grand Duke of Tuscany and Cardinal Ferdinand de’ Medici had gold coins struck of a queen and her workers, symbols of ingenuity, dedication and hard work.

Villa Medici’s attention to the protection of biodiversity for more than five years (abandonment of phytosanitary products for the maintenance of the 8 hectares of gardens, installation of bat houses and shelters for pollinators, planting of flowering meadows to increase the presence of useful insects…) has only reinforced the relevance of this project. Rome, moreover, is the most endowed city in Europe in terms of green space: it is less subject than Paris, for example, to beekeeping pressure (now too many hives for few food resources).

A Franco-Italian project, the Villa Medici apiary is co-managed by the Parisian association Dardard and the Roman association Api Romane. Dedicated to education and observation, it was conceived and designed to combine art and beekeeping and to encourage interaction between the Fellows, the Villa Medici staff (including 6 gardeners!) and the various publics who are welcomed there throughout the year (visitors, schoolchildren, artists or invited personalities…).

In addition to discovering how an apiary works and the philosophical questions surrounding the life and organization of a colony, this new apiary in the Roman sky is intended to provoke debates, exchanges and artistic creations. From the conception of experimental hives to the elaboration of works from the raw materials of the hive (wax, propolis, multicolored pollens, sounds, images…), each new class of visual artists, musicians, architects, writers etc. will be invited to interact artistically with the hive.

Carried out in summer, taking care never to take from the bees the reserves they will need to get through the fall and winter, the honey harvest will allow the outgoing class of artists to symbolically pass the baton to the next: “Here is the honey from our year here, now it’s your turn to take care of the Villa’s bees and allow the next melliferous and artistic harvest”.

The bees radiating up to 5 kilometers, the apiary will naturally be open to the outside public. Practical and educational workshops will be held to introduce children and adults to beekeeping, to awaken them to biodiversity and to the collaborative spirit of the hive. Meetings with sculptors, philosophers, directors, urban planners, art historians (etc.), whose work and reflections are interested in bees, will also be part of the cultural program of the Villa Medici. A project for social integration through beekeeping will also be deployed during 2022.

The Dardard Association

Created in 2012 by former graduates of the Société Centrale d’Apiculture, the Dardard Association manages five apiaries in Paris, two of which are located in the public space. Beyond the strict practice of beekeeping, the association aims to promote the transmission of naturalist knowledge to various audiences and to engage collaborations with artists.

The Api Romane Association

The Api Romane Association is a collective of professional and amateur beekeepers that promotes urban beekeeping in the city of Rome by spreading the principles of biodiversity, sustainability and social inclusion.

Villa Medici thanks the associations Dardard and Api Romane, partners of the project.