The Fountain of the Cannonball, which stands in front of the Villa Medici, is made up of nothing more than a large stone basin with a cannonball in the centre. The fountain, which originally sported the Florentine lily, dates back to 1587 and is thought to be the work of Annibale Lippi.
There are several tales to explain how the cannonball ended up as part of the fountain and they all involve Christina, erstwhile Queen of Sweden, who moved to Rome following her abdication on June 6th, 1654. Christina had converted to Catholicism and Sweden was a protestant country.
According to one story, Christina fired the cannonball at Villa Medici, because she hated the representatives of the Spanish court, who were closely aligned with the Medici family. The dent it made in the door of the villa can still be seen.
The Villa Medici stands on the site of the famous gardens of Lucullus, which date back to the first century BCE. In 1564 Cardinal Ricci of Montepulciano purchased a tiny building called the Casina Crescenzi and some antique ruins, which once stood on the site of the Villa Medici. The cardinal commissioned the Florentine architect Nanni di Baccio Bigio to build him a palace, which was incomplete when he died in 1574. Cardinal Ferdinando de' Medici (1549-1609) purchased it in 1576 and asked another Florentine architect Bartolomeo Ammannati to create a palace in keeping with the prestige of the Medici family.
The rather plain exterior contrasts sharply with the richly decorated garden facade. Since 1803 the Villa Medici has been the seat of the French Academy.