Discovering the Castle of Sammezzano
A treasure trove of colour and wonder, set in the Valdarno valley
To explore a region so rich in extraordinary art as Tuscany and fix one’s gaze on the Castle of Sammezzano (Reggello, Florence) is certainly an absolutely unique experience. What makes it so are the different elements forming a highly suggestive atmosphere and the surprising discovery of the unrepeatable ornamental flowering hidden behind the severe outer walls of an authentically fairytale complex dating from the mid-XIX century. The castle is the product of the will of Marchese Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona, both commissioning party and architect.
But Sammezzano is not just a sort of reproduction of Granada’s Alhambra with its seductive Moorish enchantment, nor does it limit itself to offering a theatrical performance made up of thousands of unexpected decorative inventions room after room. How to describe a folly so imaginative and sumptuous? The place is at once cultured and Disneyesque; it is fascinating and also somehow provocative in the choice of a period and stylistic repertoire so far removed from the chronological reality and life of the person who so passionately desired its creation. But there is much more to it.
The vast dwelling that dominates the southern side of the Vallombrosa mountains, overlooking with a certain feudal haughtiness the severe Valdarno countryside, in fact forms a territory wholly given over to the fancy, creativity and imaginative freedom of one man, Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona. Once the Tuscan gentleman came into possession of Sammezzano in 1843 at the end of a long and difficult legal battle over the inheritance, he devoted the rest of his life to the transfiguration of what until then had been a simple if elegant villa situated in a locale known as ‘nel popolo di San Salvatore al Leccio’. Thus, an unicum.
This stage for eclecticism and literary and stylistic crosscurrents opens on the dazzling embroidered white of the ‘Sala degli Amanti’ (Room of Lovers) where Gothic and Moorish shapes interwine. In the rooms to come there is a felicitous explosion, without pause, taking the shape of a chromatic, technical and material phantasmagoria. Rooms, halls, every vestibule and corridor are enlivened by an immense desire for ornamentation that draws lymph from the syntax of the Moorish artistic language. Sammezzano, then, is both dream and nightmare, at once a riveting fiction and historicist accumulation, opulent stage set and wonderful speculative retreat. The amazing whole still today speaks of a proudly personal ‘elsewhere’ – and complex, restless, chiaroscuro personality of its creator.