Seven eclectic castles
Here is a parade of buildings scattered throughout Italy, from the Aosta Valley to Sicily: castles, villas and palaces that stand out for their bizarre, eccentric, extravagant or unconventional architectural features.
Most of them can be described as “eclectic”, a term that points to their voluntary and conscious syncretism of various architectural elements and styles – taken from the past or present, inspired by different cultures and distant traditions. Eclecticism in Europe had some of its most vibrant and significant epiphanies between the 18th and 19th centuries, a time of great voyages and frequent contacts with distant and exotic places, only partly motivated by colonialist strategies.
However, sometimes these unique buildings originated more plainly from the particular temperament of unique personalities, who wished to customize their homes.
Let’s set out to discover the singular beauty of this heritage, in seven beautiful stops.
We start at the Ceconi Castle, a Neo-gothic villa in Pielungo, a hamlet in Vito d’Asio (Pordenone, Friuli Venezia Giulia). Built at the end of the 19th century by a brilliant Fruili entrepreneur, count Giacomo Ceconi (1833-1910), it represented the height of a successful career during which Ceconi built the most important railways and train stations of the Hapsburg Empire.
Stylistic elements reminiscent of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Art Nouveau all coexist in the Ceconi Castle. Don’t miss the remarkable frescoes depicting great figures of science, history, literature and art (from Alessandro Volta to Dante, from Leonardo da Vinci to Vittoria Colonna, from Tasso to Manzoni).
The castle currently belongs to Graphistudio.
We now move on to the Aosta Valley, and specifically to Gressoney Saint-Jean, where the Savoy Castle (Château Savoie) rises. It was commissioned and built by queen Margherita of Savoy, between the late 19th and early 20th century.
The queen personally supervised the construction work leading to this beautiful villa overlooking the peaks of Monte Rosa, and often enjoyed a stay in the shadow of its five magnificent neo-Gothic towers. Her royal consort could never keep her company in this eclectic retreat, as he had been assassinated by anarchist Gaetano Bresci in 1900 (the villa was not inaugurated until 1904).
Strada Castello Savoia, 1
Tel.: +39 012 5355396
Fax: +39 012 5355396
October-March: 10am-1pm / 2pm-5pm.
Closed on Mondays, December 25th and January 1st.
Now we travel south and head towards Emilia Romagna, to Savignano, in the municipality of Grizzana Morandi. Nestled in the northern Apennines, some 400 meters above sea level, we visit Rocchetta Mattei (which we already showcased in a previous article) [http://www.italianways.com/rocchetta-mattei/].
Built in the second half of the 19th century, it mixes various styles from Medieval to Moorish; it was home to Cesare Mattei, a truly eclectic man – a poet, politician and self-taught doctor. In the latter capacity he is best remembered as the inventor of “Electrohomeopathy”.
Enjoy a walk around towers, drawbridges, hippogriffs, caryatids and a reproduction of Granada’s Alhambra.
Approximately 100 kilometers further south, we visit the Castle of Sammezzano [http://www.italianways.com/the-renaissance-from-the-orient-at-the-castle-of-sammezzano/] in Reggello, a municipality in the province of Florence.
Designed and built between 1853 and 1889 by Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona – botanist, engineer, architect and entrepreneur, bibliophile and politician – the Sammezzano Castle’s overall shapes were clearly inspired by the Alhambra in Granada and by the Taj Mahal mausoleum in India.
Its style stemmed from the unpopular theory that Renaissance art had Oriental roots in the typical Syrian, Indian and Moorish architectural features, which the Marquis wished to merge into one lavish building.
Leccio, Reggello (Florence)
For information: www.sammezzano.org
Now we go to Umbria, more to the south, and visit La Scarzuola in Montegiove (another destination “Italian Ways” has already reached).
The complex is actually made up of two buildings that merge one into the other: the first is a medieval convent built on the site where Saint Francis witnessed a miracle in 1218.
The second was designed by famous 20th-century artist and architect Tomaso Buzzi: an “ideal city” in neo-mannerist style, inspired by the initiatory story told in the 15th-century novel “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili”, and composed of an evocative group of buildings that represent seven different theater sets.
Our next stop is in Apulia: Villa Sticchi in Santa Cesarea Terme, in the province of Lecce (read more about it in our previous article).
With its stone inlays, twisted columns, pictorial decorations with floral motifs, stars and arabesques, Villa Sticchi is a Moorish palace built between 1894 and 1900, and a striking and beautiful example of syncretism of exotic models. It overlooks the confluence of the Ionian and Adriatic Sea, at the crossroads of Western and Eastern cultures and traditions.
Via Roma, 159
Santa Cesarea Terme (Lecce)
Tel.: +39 0836 949811
And here we come to the last stop on this eclectic journey of ours: Filippo Bentivegna’s Enchanted Castle in Sciacca, Sicily, in the province of Agrigento (which we featured in another article).
The castle was built by sculptor Filippo Bentivegna (1888-1927), who was born in Sciacca in 1888 and immigrated in the United States in 1913. There, he was hit over the head with a club, perhaps by a rival in love: after the incident, he started having serious problems with amnesia. Once he returned to Italy after the Great War, he was accused of desertion and declared insane. At that point, he retired to the estate where he began building his Enchanted Castle.
His property was in an area full of limestone formations, and he started decorating it with hundreds of large and small heads and faces – some even two-faced – sculpting them over the years of his stay. People in the village called him “Filippo of the Heads”, or “Master Filippo”, or “Filippo the Fool”.
Today, his Castle is visited by artists and experts from the world over.
Filippo Bentivegna’s Enchanted Castle
Via Filippo Bentivegna, 16
Tel.: +39 339 2340174 / +39 320 8446278 / +39 380 4754856
April to October: every day from 9.30am to 1pm and from 3.30pm to 8pm.
November to March: every day from 9.30am to 1pm and from 3.30pm to 5.30pm.