These are some excerpts from the diary of the alchemist Friedrich Von Leben, written over the course of his journey to Italy from 1779 to 1786. During that time, the German found himself in the area of Bagno di Ripoli and he describes an extraordinary event that happened to him inside Villa Il Riposo.
… I spent the night at the Spedale del Bigallo, located at the crossroads of via Aretina and the strada del gallo, and after enjoying a hearty meal of dark meats flavoured with Eastern spices, from the spedale’s wonderful kitchen I looked outside and my eyes were met with a splendid view of the nearby city of Florence, illuminated by lamps and the moon, which in those days shined brightly on the olive groves dotting the valley that separated us. As I laid down for the night, I decided therefore to explore the beautiful countryside surrounding Bagno di Ripoli and the numerous villas and churches in the area. Among these, the Oratory of Santa Caterina remains engraved in my memory, with its paintings depicting the stories of the Saint that decorate the walls and the roof of the small chapel. As midday and afternoon passed me by, I was invited by some noblemen whom I met to spend the evening in the garden of a nearby villa.
I arrived there a little after sundown. The ancient
villa was called Villa del Riposo,
but no one had much interest in taking a rest. After an abundant banquet, at
which many drank their fill of the red
wine that comes from these lands, there were those ready to disappear into
the villa’s rooms or the corners of the park with some new companion and others
who preferred to take their leave; I
preferred to explore the garden’s secrets, where in the distance, I glimpsed
a rose-coloured shed with white stone borders that was tempting me
to discover its features. Once I reached the building, to my great surprise, I saw two women dressed in white appear
before me, inviting me to come in and sit next to a fountain. The women
began to dance around me, offering me water
to drink directly from their hands, freshly bubbled up from below ground.
On the floor, the name of the place was written in a mosaic: Fata Morgana. Looking around, I admired
the rough architraves, like imposing clubs, and a tabernacle that the women, still dancing around me,
wouldn’t let me get close to.
The only thing allowed to me was to approach the fountain and the large statue that stood atop it. The water overflowed from a stone tub into a hexagonal basin that the Fairy stood over. The women in white came and went through the side doors until I passed out in the middle of the lodge. I woke up well after sunrise, now alone and convinced to have dreamt what I experienced. By chance, my gaze rested upon the basin and I saw that my hair was darker and the lines around my eyes were finer. As I was leaving through the building’s side door, I found these words:
Io son quella, o lettor, fata Morgana
che giovin qui ringioveniva altrui
Qui dal Vecchietto, poiché vecchia io fui
ringiovenita colla sua fontana