One of Europe’s most beautiful and mesmerizing castles is in danger of disappearing completely — and it’s situated in one of Italy’s most beautiful and popular regions. Just 25 miles southeast of Florence in Leccio is the Castle of Sammezzano, a behemoth beauty with 365 dazzling rooms. Abandoned but not completely forgotten years ago, this magnificent Italian castle is one of the finest examples of Moorish revival architecture still in existence. Recently added to the short list of Europe’s most endangered heritage sites, the Castle of Sammezzano's placement on the short (but not yet finalized) list adds a direct call to action for leaders and visitors across the world to save one of the most spectacular architectural finds from the last millennia. Though the final list of endangered European heritage sites will not be released until March 15th, this visual delight of a castle is still worth seeking out.
A Different World Indeed
There are plenty of interesting castles in the world, but the Castle of Sammezzano is in a class all its own. At the time of its design, Europeans were at the peak of their obsession with the so-called Orient. They infused it into nearly every aspect of their lives, especially in their artwork — and the architectural design of the Castle of Sammezzano is no exception. The interior features some of the most whimsical Arab, Indian, Persian, Spanish, and Byzantine decorations and influences anywhere in Europe.
The Latin phrase “Non plus ultra” is embedded into one of the palace walls. Meaning “nothing further beyond,” if tradition is to be believed, the phrase was inscribed to let visitors know they were about to be transported to a different world. We have a feeling they would have gotten the hint the minute they walked underneath one of the decorative archways with or without that message. Each of the castle’s 365 rooms is uniquely designed with brilliant colors, intricate designs and geometric patterns. The Peacock Room is known for its bright jeweled tones, while the White Room is adorned in Moroccan tiles and chandeliers in — you guessed it — pure white, for example. There are rainbow-colored ceilings and halls lined with mirrors, hidden corners, and huge vaulted ceilings. Walking through the Castle of Sammezzano is like walking into a kaleidoscope.
Where Did It Come From?
It’s believed that the original building was constructed as early as the 900s and used by Spanish nobility during the Middle Ages. However, a man by the name of Marchese Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona is credited for its expansion and Oriental flair today. Sick of the toxic, political environment of Florence, Ferdinando withdrew to his property in the nearby town of Reggello in the 1840s, spending the next four decades orchestrating the building of his visual masterpiece. He renovated and expanded the main building, adding the corridor of the stalactites and rich colors and patterns throughout. His work wasn’t confined to the interior of the castle, either. He planted a grove of oaks and other exotic trees and plants throughout the property’s 450 acres, creating one of the largest parks in Tuscany. In between it all, visitors can find caves, pools and fountains.
After his death, the Castle of Sammezzano became a luxury hotel during World War II, but it was eventually abandoned and closed its doors in the 1990s. Since then, a variety of plans have been made to restore it to its former glory but none have been successful. Most recently, a grassroots organization called Save Sammezzano partnered with the Touring Club Italiano to nominate the castle as an endangered European heritage site, hoping to restore its halls to their former glory and turn the Castle of Sammezzano into an accessible public museum.
How to See It
Due to its state of disrepair and the uncertainty of its future, very few people have been granted access to the Castle of Sammezzano in the last 25 years. The mystery only lends to the intrigue of visiting it firsthand. In the past, visitors could apply for a specialty visit via an organized lottery. However, there are no public openings at this time. It’s hoped that its placement on the endangered European heritage sites list will restore it and reopen it to visitors in the future.