Less than 40 kilometres south of Central Florence, located in Leccio in the municipality of Reggello, lies the amazing dreamy castle of Sammezzano. Surrounded by an oak tree grove and situated on the top of a hill, the abandoned Sammezzano Castle is an extravagant residence beyond comparison.
It was built in 1605 with funds from Spanish nobility for Ximenes of Aragon. Then it was inherited by Ferdinand Panciatichi Ximenes and re-designed between 1853 and 1889. In 1878 he also hosted the King of Italy Umberto I. After the Second World War, Sammezzano Castle was used as a luxury hotel with apartments, spa, golf and country club until its closure in the 1990s.
Despite some urgent restoration work in 1999, it has been largely abandoned and closed to the public. In April 2012, however, a committee was formed to promote and enhance Sammezzano: it is called FPXA 1813-2013, acronym for Ferdinand Panciatichi Ximenes d'Aragona.
Sammezzano Castle is in the Moorish style, with intricate designs and a breathtaking assortment of patterns and colors. The castle has 365 rooms, one for every day of the year and each room has its own name and differs from the others. Within the castle you can find the Peacock Room with incredible colors and geometries, the White Room with Moroccan mosaic tiled floors and wrought iron chandeliers hanging from the ceilings, the gallery between the Hall of Mirrors and the octagon of the Smoking Room, the Hall of Lilies, the Stalactites, the Lovers and also a small chapel.
In these spaces there are hidden niches, corners, windows, columns, labyrinthine paths, capitals, arches, vaults and domes. Above an archway stand out the words "Non Plus Ultra" (meaning "the highest point or culmination"), which in Greek Mythology was a warning that marked the edge of a flat world for explorers; perhaps communicating the architect's vision to take visitors literally out of this world with jaw-dropping interiors.
Unfortunately the castle is not visible at the moment, except on extraordinary occasions, and it's hard to believe that this incredible building has been left abandoned (there is no electricity and water inside). At the moment there are no public openings planned, but the committee always tries to arrange visits in agreement with the owners.
You can’t buy tickets in advance, but you can make volunteer donations. Visit www.sammezzano.org and “like” the Facebook page "Sammezzano-comitato fpxa", which offers update info about new opening hours.
Sammezzano Castle is surrounded by a parkland of 450 acres, one of the largest in Tuscany. The park dates back to the mid-nineteenth century and was built by Ferdinand Panciatichi making use of agricultural land around his property and a grove of oaks. He planted a large number of exotic tree species and added architectural elements in the Moorish style, such as a bridge, an artificial cave with a statue of Venus, some pools, fountains and other decorative creations in terracotta.
Only a small part of the nineteenth century trees survived but there is a restoration project to preserve rare trees. The park hosts the largest group of giant sequoias in Italy, with 57 examples all measuring over 35 metres.
You can access the castle (only on foot) crossing the park by walking a 1,500 metre long bumpy uphill road. So, you have to park at The Mall luxury outlet (follow the red arrows in the map below).
To reach Sammezzano Castle from Florence, Milan and Rome, take the A1 highway toward respectively Rome – Florence/Rome - Florence. Exit at the “Incisa-Reggello” tollbooth and proceed on the right toward Pontassieve until you reach Leccio. The Mall Outlet Centre is on the left just after passing the Leccio town centre.
This article was originally written by Serena Puosi.