Discovering Vizcaya Museum: A Hidden Treasure in Miami

Originally published in Casino Pulse Magazine, June 2010 •
Photo courtesy of Vizcaya Museum •

Miami was a popular destination for the rich and famous long before well-heeled fashionistas found South Beach or before paparazzi followed celebrities to expensive resorts. One of America’s wealthiest tycoons called Miami home during America’s Gilded Age in the early 1920s, and his dream palace has added to the city’s allure.

Industrialist and Chicago native James Deering built his “castle in the sun” overlooking Biscayne Bay in 1916, and today the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens remains one of America’s greatest houses.

An heir to the International Harvester Company, Deering wanted his winter home to be a replica of an Italian villa. Deering and his designer scoured Europe for the finest antiques and artwork that money could buy. They bought a ceiling from a Venetian palazzo and a fireplace mantel from a French chateau. A 16th-century statue of Bacchus, the Roman god of hospitality, greets visitors at the main loggia, and the entrance to the library is covered with 19th-century French wall panels. In the exquisite dining room, two stone lions — possibly from Pompeii or Herculaneum — support a massive stone-topped table. These are just a fraction of the treasures found inside the decorated 34 rooms.

Vizcaya, named after a legendary Spanish explorer, is designated as U.S. National Historic Landmark and is accredited by the American Association of Museums for its original collections.

With all the opulence that the main house offers, it is hard to pull yourself away to go outside. But do. You simply should not miss the formal gardens, which cover 10 acres. Combining elements of Renaissance Italian and French designs, the gardens feature ponds, fountains, statues, and a central pool surrounding an elevated island. And when you look toward Biscayne Bay, you’ll notice the unusual stone barge carved from coral stone. Modeled after the barge of the doges in Venice, the impressive structure served as a breakwater to protect boats visiting the villa.

Located at 3251 South Miami Ave and one-quarter mile off Interstate 95, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is open to the public 364 days a year, and group tours are offered in 10 languages. Please visit or call 305-250-9133 for ticket information and hours of operation.

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