The Castle of Sammezzano was originally built in 1605 by Spanish nobleman Ximenes of Aragon. However, the castle truly became unique in the 19th century when Ferdinand Panciatichi Ximenes inherited the property, and over the course of nearly 40 years between 1853 and 1889 remodeled it into one of the largest and most flamboyant examples of Moorish Revival Architecture.
The ‘palazzo’ has 365 rooms, one for every day of the year, and each has its own name and is unique in style and decor. Among the most famous rooms are the Peacock Room with stunning colors and geometries, the White Room with Moroccan mosaic tiled floors and wrought iron chandeliers, the gallery between the Hall or Mirrors and the octagon of the Smoking Room, the Hall of Lilies, the Stalactites, the Lovers and also a small chapel.
In these spaces that follow one another there are hidden niches, corners, windows, columns, labyrinthine paths, capitals, arches, vaults and domes. Above an archway are the words ‘Non Plus Ultra’, in Latin meaning ‘nothing further beyond’. In Greek Mythology this phrase 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. It is also a play on the national motto of Spain ‘Plus Ultra’, or ‘further beyond’ which was adopted in the 16th Century by King Charles V and used to encourage Spanish explorers.
The castle is situated on the top of a hill, and surrounded by a parkland of 450 acres, and originally included a large number of exotic tree species and added architectural elements – also in the Moorish style – such as a bridge, an artificial cave with a statute of Venus, pools and fountains. However, many of these items were looted during the Second World War. The park also still hosts the largest group of giant sequoias in Italy, with 57 trees all measuring over 35 metres in height.
Umberto I, king of Italy, visited Ximenes at Sammezzano in 1878. After the Second World War the castle was used as a luxury hotel with apartments, spa, golf and country club until its closure in 1990. It was purchased by a British company in 1999, and some urgent restoration work carried out. However, it has since sat largely abandoned and closed to the public.
In April 2012 a local non-profit committee called FPXA 1813-2013 (an acronym for Ferdinand Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragon ) was formed to attempt to restore and preserve the palazzo.
The castle is now owned by Palmerston Hotels & Resorts, who plan to develop the property into a “luxurious sporting resort, incorporating a boutique hotel, apartments, spa and country club with golf, tennis and various sporting amenities”. They have obtained all necessary planning approvals and redevelopment finally began in 2015.
Recently, Thierry Mugler also used the Great White Rotunda and Peacock Rooms in the castle to film an advert for his ‘Alien’ perfume. The video can be seen here.