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Sammezzano Castle ranks first in forgotten Italian art gems

by di Lorenzo Zanini

Italy has a unique artistic heritage. However, many of its ‘gems' not only get left in storage, far from sight, but they're often left in neglectful conditions. One of these is Sammezzano Castle, a masterpiece of 19th century “orientalist” art (so much so that critics compared it to the Sistine Chapel), with a park that nearly covers 200 hectares.
The Castle is the best-loved place among the 1.5 million people who voted in the Italian Environmental Fund (FAI)'s 8th “Places of the Heart” census. From 2003 to today, 68 sites in 15 Italian regions—including churches, castles, archaeological and natural areas, museums, and historical, religious, civil, and military buildings—have been “saved”, thanks to “Places of the Heart”.
The Castle, which is located near Leccio (a small community in the district of Reggello, located about an hour's drive from Florence), received more than 50,000 votes. This allowed the Castle to take top spot among the more than 33,000 Italian places that individual citizens or spontaneous committees (319 in this, the 8th, edition) had identified to FAI as being either forgotten or in need of saving.
Privately owned, its current appearance comes from the second half of the 19th century, when Marquess Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes restored it in the “orientalist” style. This made it a unique building in Italy, which evokes “Moorish” artistic masterpieces like the Alhambra and the Taj Mahal.
After the attempt to transform it into a luxury resort, the Castle has been closed to the public and left in an abandoned state to this day—as reported by the committee that worked to garner it votes. For years, this committee has been asking for the Castle to be restored and given back to the Italian citizens.
Placing second in FAI's rankings with over 47,000 votes is the monumental Santa Croce a Bosco Marengo complex in the province of Alessandria, which contains Giorgio Vasari's ‘Universal Judgment' fresco. As indicated by the voters, this piece of art needs restoration and a plan to increase its value.
Third place with almost 37,000 votes were the Caglieron caves in Fregona (in the province of Treviso), with their artificial caverns formed by sandstone extraction—appealing, yet little-known.
Further down in FAI's top ten were—in order of placement—the Capo Colonna archaeological area in Crotone; the Ditta Guenzati in Milan (the city's oldest shop); the Saint Nicholas Convent in Almenno San Salvatore (Bergamo); the Tonnara del Secco in San Vito Lo Capo (Trapani); the Roman Bridge on the Ofanto river in Canosa di Puglia; Fort St. Felix in Chioggia (Venice); and the Augustan Amphitheater in Lucera (Foggia).
Also noteworthy were the nearly 6,000 votes received by the Santa Maria della Filetta Sanctuary (dedicated to the patron saint of Amatrice), which had been struck by last summer's earthquake—fortunately avoiding its complete destruction. A very encouraging message, which looks towards the future.