The Palazzina (“little building”) stands at the westernmost point of the Park, where the Mugnone meets the Arno. The funerary cremation rites for the Indian prince Rajaram Chuttraputti of Kolhapur, who died suddenly during an 1870 sojourn in Florence, were held here, in keeping with the Hindu tradition of celebrating funerals at the confluence of two rivers; his ashes were scattered upon the Arno and the Mugnone. Here, following a request from the Government of Bombay made through Captain Charles Mant and granted by decision of the City Council of Florence on February 4, 1873, a monument commemorating the Raja of Kolhapur was erected: an elegant kiosk of artistically cast iron with a bust of the prince by the sculptor Fuller at its center. In addition to the wrought-iron railing around it, the monument was further embellished with a parterre consisting of a mosaic-style flower bed and some Libocedrus decurrensplants. The layout of this characteristic western point of the park was shaped in those years not only by the monument to the Indian prince, but also by the widening of the excise duty ring wall that came about as a result of the setting of new municipal boundaries for Florence with the 1865 administrative reform. Since in this area the new excise wall corresponded to the perimeter of the park, constituted by the Arno and the Mugnone, work was begun to revamp that point of the park – which at the time sloped gently towards the two rivers and was thus easily accessible – with the raised, fenced terraced area still present today. In addition to the terracing, in 1871 the municipal administration approved construction of the Palazzina to host the customs officers who patrolled this out-of-the-way section of the excise wall. After the creation of the monument to the Indian prince, the Palazzina was passed to the public park administration, and became a residence for land wardens assigned to watch over the monument and the park. In 1878 these guards were given permission to turn one of its rooms into a café. Following another shift that set it further outside the excise wall in 1911 and the wall’s abolition in 1929, the Palazzina’s function as a park service structure and café was enhanced.
The Palazzina was given new life in 2018, after a major restoration effort, as the PIA Palazzina Indiano Arte, the new project curated by Virgilio Sieni / National Production Center in Florence’s Cascine Park, which won a bid for a five-year authorization from the Municipality of Florence to utilize the building.
PIA is a recreation space, a permanent laboratory, a residence for artists and a creative space where new and unexpected connections are woven between dancers, citizens, researchers, students, amateur performers and the public. It is a meeting place in which to develop explorations of the relationship between nature, territory and gesture, redefining it and creating new visions and a fresh shared perspective. It is also an artistic center dedicated to the relationship between body and nature that aims to encourage critical reflection on the uses of public parks. Lawn spaces deeper within the Cascine Park and towards the bank of the Arno from time to time areinvolved in “gentle” practices like listening, performances and walks. The project develops artistic and educational programs through cycles of encounters, practices and workshops involving artists, intellectuals, scholars and botanists.
PIA also serves as a reference point that resonates with its surrounding area through a specific program of activities that generate dialogue between the Palazzina and the suburbs. This sort of use of cultural and social heritage responds to the need for proposals for the creation of a new democratic model of the city, one that rediscovers open and empty spaces as equilibrium-producing elements that encourage free thinking and free circulation of ideas.
The project also hosts the School of the gesture and the landscape, geared towards educators and cultural mediators involved in a process regarding the relationship between gesture, nature and cognitive sciences, intended to create a poetic mapping of the regeneration of the territory and a rewriting of a geography of details through communities of the gesture.
The ground floor space includes a central hallway around the stone staircase linking it to the first floor and the terrace; a large room to the left of the stair used as a space for practices regarding languages of the body and of dance; and Café and book corner to the right of the stair. On the first floor are two rooms for artists in residence and two exposition rooms, as well as a large panoramic terrace.