The Story of Vizcaya’s Hidden Moat

Every castle needs a moat and Vizcaya is no different. This feature of the estate goes largely unnoticed by visitors because of its location below the Piazza. As guests arrive at the estate and approach the admissions booth, they unknowingly walk right over the inconspicuous moat.

The Origins 

The moat was originally used as the roadbed for South Miami Avenue. James Deering, the original owner of Vizcaya, requested that the road be relocated to its modern-day location to increase the distance between his property and the outside world. As a result, a portion of native Rockland hammock grew in the gap between the Vizcaya estate and this main avenue, preserving the natural Florida forest. 

Later, it was discovered that the roadbed was made of fossilized coral, a type of limestone. The stone was mined by workers during the construction of Vizcaya in 1914 and used for ornamental purposes throughout the Main House and gardens. You can find this decorative element today adorning columns, grottos, walls and other architectural features. 

As the mining took place, what was originally a road became a deep trench, until it formed into a security feature that we now call the moat. During Mr. Deering’s time, many attempts were made to fill the moat with water, cacti, and agave plants, but none of them worked due to the porous nature of limestone. 

Inspiring Art 

As a result, the moat was eventually abandoned and left to expand on its own. In recent years, the moat has been the subject of a contemporary art installation inspired by its prior history as a main road. 

In 2016, the Lost Spaces and Stories of Vizcaya exhibit, part of the museum’s Contemporary Art Program, featured a work titled “Moat White Stripe” by Duane Brant, which added a reflective white stripe down the middle of the space, echoing its former life as a street. The installation even included a series of guided excursions into the space led by the artist, a Vizcaya member exclusive. 


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