Sammezzano castle (all photographs by Diana Di Nuzzo)
The Sammezzano castle in Tuscany near Florence was designed by the Marquis Ferdinando Ximenes Panciatichi of Aragon between 1853 and 1889. Faithful supporter of the Italian national cause, he was animated by a notoriously difficult personality. He financed and built the entire structure — all materials were created “on the spot,” with a local workforce educated for the occasion, even building a kiln to bake pottery — inspired by a wide range of styles that the Marquis had known only through his readings (it seems he did not travel outside the country).
Disillusioned by politics, and by the attitude of the Florentines of his day, he decided to finally retire into this world of his own creation, surrounded by a park of great redwood trees and rare plants (in addition to being an architect, bibliophile, and entrepreneur, he was also considered a botanical expert). Inside the palace, he embedded messages for the few visitors allowed, such as the famous inscription Non plus ultra, “nothing farther beyond,” with reference to the uniqueness and originality of his treasure.
After the Marquis passed on, the castle became a hotel, then was abandoned in 1990. In 1999, the castle was bought by a British company, which did not adequately address the preservation of this architectural masterpiece. The rooms, each individually decorated with care and imagination, were sometimes robbed by intruders, as the castle was not protected by any kind of security system.
These days, the only people who are really taking care of Sammezzano are the members of the FPXA Committee, headed by Massimo Sottani. They are hoping for a restoration of the building backed by investors, while in the meantime they still organize rare openings to the public.
The visionary talent of the Marquis evoked an atmosphere of One Thousand and One Nights, which he used to take refuge from the frustrations arising from the present. Many more meanings are supposedly hidden in the mystical colors and fantastical shapes of the castle, along with messages of architectural modernity: uplifting the function of beauty in architecture, the demand for freedom and human dignity, and even spirituality and religion are issues that are taken into consideration in the magnificent rooms of the castle.
Of outstanding beauty are the Room of the Lilies, the Room of the Lovers, the Room of the Stalactites, the Room of the Mirrors, and the Room of the Peacocks. Entering each of these environments, the viewer is taken by a peculiar atmosphere, a changing light, the iridescence caused by the light itself, but also by the immaculate whiteness and the mathematical perfection of the individual architectural elements that intersect in a frenzy not seen anywhere else in Italy.
To have the opportunity to visit this castle is a real privilege right now (the next tour will be in October, check out the FPXA Committee site for details). It would be magnificent if this place could become a property open regularly to the public, so that everyone would have the opportunity to know the genius of the Marquis and live this fairytale experience, while helping with their financial aid the survival of a castle that now lies abandoned.
While waiting for this day to come, here is a video that shows the hidden rooms of Sammezzano, as well as more photographs below:
A version of this article previously appeared on Artribune.