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Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild was designed by the French architect Aaron Messiah, and constructed between 1905 and 1912 by Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild (1864–1934) .
A member of the Rothschild banking family and the wife of the banker Baron Maurice de Ephrussi, Béatrice de Rothschild built her rose-colored villa on a promontory on the isthmus of Cap Ferrat overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The Baroness filled the mansion with antique furniture, Old Master paintings, sculptures, objets d"art, and assembled an extensive collection of rare porcelain. The gardens are classified by the French Ministry of Culture as one of the Notable Gardens of France.
On her death in 1934, the Baroness donated the property and its collections to the Académie des Beaux Arts division of the Institut de France and it is now open to the public.
The villa is surrounded by nine gardens, each on a different theme: Florentine, Spanish, Garden à la française, exotic, a stone garden, a Japanese garden, a rose garden, Provençal and a garden de Sèvres. They were created between 1905 and 1912 under the direction of landscape architect Achille Duchêne.
The garden was conceived in the form of a ship, to be viewed from the loggia of the house, which was like the bridge of a vessel, with the sea visible on all sides. It was inspired by a voyage she made on the liner Île de France, and the villa was given that name. The thirty gardeners who maintained the garden were dressed as sailors, with berets with red pom-poms.
The Garden à la française is the largest garden and occupies the area behind the villa. Next to the villa there is a terrace with a formal French garden and topiaries. Beyond the terrace is a park with palm trees and a long basin, ornamented with fountains, statues, and basins with water lilies and other aquatic plants. On the far end of the park is a hill covered with cypress trees, surrounding a replica garden of the Temple of Love at the Petit Trianon palace. The slope below the temple has a cascade of water in the form of a stairway, which feeds into the large basin.
A stairway from the French garden descends to the circle of gardens on the lower level. The Spanish garden features a shaded courtyard and fountain, with aromatic plants, Catalan amphorae, and a Gallo-Roman bench. The Florentine garden, facing the rade of Villefranche-sur-Mer, has a grand stairway, an artificial grotto, and an ephebe of marble. Beyond the Florentine garden is the lapidary, or stone garden, with an assortment of gargoyles, columns, and other architectural elements from ancient and medieval buildings. The Japanese garden has a wooden pavilion, a bridge, and lanterns. The exotic garden features giant cactus and other rare plants. A rose garden with a statue surrounded by columns adjoins it, where pink, the favorite color of the owner, is the predominant color. On the east side of the villa is a garden of native plants of Provence and a garden with decorations of Sèvres porcelain.