Was madness or alchemy at the origin of Villa Palagonia, in Bagheria? Whatever the case, the Sicilian building is so extraordinary that Goethe invented the neologism “Pallagonic” to address a new aesthetic category, encompassing all deform, crazy, chaotic, and madly disharmonious works.
Yet the person who had this bizarre structure built, overcrowded with monstrous sandstone statues, was generally deemed wise and authoritative, moderate and reasonable in his views and his decision. Goethe himself described him – that is, Francesco Ferdinando Gravina Cruyllas, Prince of Palagonia – as an elegant, “quiet and solemn” man.
Thus some believe the mid-1700s villa gives away a secret penchant for alchemy, and say its whole architectural structure can be interpreted in the light of typical esoteric symbols tied to the eternal search for the philosopher’s stone, verging on necromancy.
We may never know the truth. However, we can easily agree with poet Alda Merini, who said, “even folly deserves its praise”.