La Scarzuola – Montegabbione (TR), Italy - Atlas Obscura
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Montegabbione (TR), Italy

La Scarzuola

This 16th-century monastery has been turned into a surrealist architecture compound. 

Although La Scarzuola began as a Franciscan monastery, today’s architectural wonderland has little to do with traditional religion, reflecting instead the esoteric beliefs of a visionary Milanese architect.

That architect, Tomaso Buzzi, acquired the property in 1956 with the grand plan of juxtaposing the “sacred city” of the monastery with his own “ideal city” that would be a hauntingly dreamlike allegory for the mysteries and perplexing paths of the ideal life. His style blends reality with surrealist architecture, incorporating structures and details from Classical to Medieval and even Renaissance architecture, all tied together by overarching Neomannerist elements such as stairways leading in multiple directions, general unbalance and disproportion, and monstrous and fantastical design elements.

His work spans the body of surrealism from Dali and Miro to M.C. Escher, echoing their dark works in his immense compound. The core of the Città Ideale is formed by seven theaters, representing Buzzi’s notion that the ideal life (and the mysterious initiations associated with it) is inherently and symbolically theatrical. The theaters are surrounded by grounds that include multiple grottos and reflecting pools and are surmounted by an “Acropolis” that consists of a riot of buildings all piled together (including many reproductions — the Arc de Triomphe, the Temple of Vesta, the Parthenon, etc.), which are mostly empty inside, save for stairways and inner bridges.

Each work is carefully constructed to represent the inner thoughts of the artist, as well as a blend of the philosophical tenets that guided his life. Although the styles and buildings change by the meter in the compound, his overall surrealistic approach is defined especially through the random scattering of quotes and strange symbols placed throughout La Scarzuola.

Considered the artist’s “autobiography in stone,” La Scarzuola is deeply personal and those familiar with the artist will find him in every brick laid in the compound. After his death in 1981, his nephew Marco Solari continued to work on La Scarzuola, eventually completing the vision his uncle had for his ideal city.

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