Castello di Sammazzano
A Moorish-revival style palazzo in the heart of Tuscany was transformed from a typical villa to a work of art over a 40-year period. Unfortunately, it experienced years of abandon and decline and is open only occasionally under "cultural heritage days" but it sells out quickly when reservations are offered. It won the top spot for FAI's Luoghi di Cuore - the Fondo Ambiente Italiano, a cultural and historical preservation organization- with a list of "places of the heart". They are seeking funds to restore the castello to its original splendor.
What had been a classic Tuscan villa from the Medici era, it was owned from 1604 by the Ximenes d'Aragona family as a hunting lodge. It was redone in the 1800s by Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d'Aragona according to his own whimsy and design instructions. The magical, mysterious, fable-like interiors blend oriental, Moorish, and Indian elements to striking effect. There is no other place in Italy like it (and likely not in all of Europe!). It was an unrivaled and avant garde palace, considered at the time on a par with the Alahambra and Taj Mahal. The primary 13 monumental salons on the piano nobile are truly striking. Ximenes are influential in Florence's cultural, social and political life at the time.
The villa sort of overshadowed the gardens, but they, too, are impressive and grand, and can be visited by anyone. They bore 100 exotic tree species, and while not all of them survive, many do, including sequoias. It is one of the largest private parks in Tuscany.
The Castello Sammazzano went through a drama all its own with auctions, foreclosures, and failed business ventures through the years. It had been a hotel and restaurant through the 1970s through the 1990s, when it was purchased by a company, but no further renovations or restorations had been done. In 2019 a Save Sammazzano movement started to protect "its fragile beauty" and work is ongoing. (Donations can be made to the efforts through the association spearheading it.)
If you get a chance to visit, it is well worth the effort of obtaining tickets through FAI's Open Days (Giornate Aperte). At the least, you can stroll amidst the park and dream of what this castle was like (and could be again).
It has the makings of a good film - a fading beauty of extraordinary splendor with a history and uniqueness, struggling to be saved for future generations.
Photo Credit: Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI)
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Via Garibaldi, 6.