“Nothing is More Beautiful” is the motto inscribed in the stunning oriental decorations found in the exotic Sammezzano Castle only 30kms from Florence and just a hop skip and jump from my place. Perched high among its secular tree park and oblivious to the thousands of tourists that visit The Mall shopping outlet below, it is something of a tragic icon.
The inspiration of the Marchese – Ferdinand Panciatichi Ximenes of Aragon who transformed and extended the existing building in 1843-1889 into the Oriental paradise that we know today. An architect, engineer, artisan, disillusioned politician, a visionary and lover of Art and History, a man who donated significantly to our famous Art Galleries – Uffizi, Accademia, Bargello – financing the 18 statues in the niches of the courtyard of Uffizi, yet would die alone in serious debt over the Sammezzano Castle project.
A step inside and the explosion of colours takes your breath away, it’s truly amazing, overwhelmingly exotic, bizarre, beautiful beyond words! Like walking into a film set of ‘Arabian nights’ , each room unique and enchantingly named – Room of Stars, Lovers Room, Room of Butterflies, Lily Room, and the famous Peacock room and more….
All Photo credits to Save Sammezzano members
Despite the obvious Arab Spanish influence Ferdinando Panciatichi had never been to Spain, Egypt or Turkey and the workers on site were all local Italians even less likely to have ever travelled outside of the country. Yet the decorations reflect his passion for the mysterious and rather outlandish styles (for the period) and his vision of creating something entirely different.
Every decoration, from floor to ceiling done to exquisite perfection and each room designed to utilise the sunlight to reflect on the elaborate patterns and mirror fragments for illumination.
The eccentricity of Ferdinando Panciatichi is shown in many of the Latin inscriptions incorporated in the decorations, one in particular showing his disillusionment with politics and on his resignation in 1870 inscribed- ‘Italy is in the hands of thieves, tax collectors, prostitutes and middlemen who control it and devour it. But not for this I grieve, but for the fact that we deserve them.’ !
After his death the Sammezzano Castle was kept in the family until the 1970’s when it was bought by the Palmerston Hotel group and converted into a luxury Hotel which remained in operation until 1990. It was during this period that I was fortunate to make a visit with my parents on the pretext we were interested in making a booking!
In the 1990’s the Castle was bought by an Italo-English Company – Castle Sammezzano SRL – who initially intended to expand the complex with a golf course, pool and tennis courts as the Castle is surrounded by around 250 acres of parkland, 100 acres of which are woodlands with secular native and foreign trees personally selected by Ferdinando.
But the project was put aside and the company has done nothing to the site since they bought it. So the Castle is in a state of abandonment, left open to vandals who have defaced some of the decorations and stolen various pieces of furniture and statues. In 2015 the company agreed to place the Castle up for auction but there were no buyers. At a hefty cost of €15 million plus the cost of renovations that would be required it is not that enticing, nor do the present owners feel any responsibility to preserve what is a truly exceptional building and parkland.
Two voluntary associations – Comitato FPXA and Save Sammezzano have been created to take up the cause, putting pressure on the Government to buy the building (but they declined), and even tried via a crowdfunding project to raise money for its protection and upkeep but were unsuccessful. On occasions the Comitato has been allowed to take visitors through.
A beautiful video on the Castle on the Castle was created by Francesco Esposito for the Kickstarter project.
The two histrionic lion statues that guarded the façade have been stolen, the last one only recently on1st April 2016. The only recompense for their disappearance will be the curse that is said to now go onto the thieves – who will die a long slow death by paralysis as did the owner of the house – Ferdinando Panciatichi of Aragon
My only hope is that the curse may extend to it’s current owners, for allowing such a unique masterpiece of Florence go to ruin!
If anyone is interested the next auction is on the 24th May, 2016 so start saving!!!