SAMMEZZANO – HISTORY AND INFORMATION
The castle of Sammezzano got its current appearance thanks to the work of one man: Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d'Aragona (Florence, 1813- Sammezzano, 1897) who renovated and expanded the pre-existing building during the period between 1843 and 1889.
The history of the place however is significantly older: it is possible to trace it back to the Roman period, as well as to the subsequent centuries. In the "History of Florence" written by the great historian Davidsohn, it is reported that in 780 Charlemagne could have passed by the place on his way back from Rome, where he went to have his son baptized by the Pope.
The land on which Sammezzano is erected has always been owned by very influential and powerful families. We know that the Altoviti family, as requested by the Duke Cosimo de’Medici, transferred the property to Giovanni Jacopo de 'Medici, who in turn sold it to Sebastiano Ximenes.
The estate remained in possession of the Ximenes d'Aragona family until the last successor, Ferdinando, who died in 1816.
A cabreum of 1818 (hence prior to the renovation of Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d'Aragona) written by the engineer Giuseppe Faldi reported a structure with majestic size, protective barriers and with entrance steps that were situated on the opposite side of the current stairway.
FERDINANDO PANCIATICHI XIMENES D’ARAGONA
Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d'Aragona was born on March 10th, 1813 in Florence and deceased on October 18th, 1897 in Sammezzano.
In 1827, after a long court case concerning the last will and testament of Ferdinando Ximenes, properties, name, family sign and noble title of the family Ximenes d’ Aragona, were transferred to the firstborn of Ferdinando’s sister Vittoria, wife of Niccolò Panciatichi. Consequently, “our” Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona was the sole successor of the Panciatichi and Ximenes families and inherited also the property of Sammezzano.
The cultural wave of "orientalism" spread around Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century and Florence was one of the main centers. Influenced by this movement, Ferdinando started to modify the existing Sammezzano structure and realized new halls: the entrance portal in 1853, the corridor of stalactites in 1862 and the ballroom in 1867 up to the central tower, where the year 1889 has found engraved.
Ferdinando was a very dynamic person: a scientific expert, philanthropist, benefactor, art collector and a Giuseppe Verdi “lover”. He was involved in numerous authorities: for example, he was a partner at the Academy of Georgofili (1855), vice-president of the Horticultural Society, honorary member of the Academy of Fine Arts and sponsor of Dante Alighieri monument, erected in occasion of his six hundredth birthday.
At the same time he was also politically very active: liberal and against the Roman Church, he was an advisor of both the Municipal Councils of Reggello and Florence between 1859 and 1865 and advisor to the District Council (later provincial) between 1860 and 1864. He was twice elected deputy of the Italian kingdom in 1865-1867. During the same year, shortly after the election, he resigned from his function protesting against the law issued by the Parliament relating to the church property, which did not keep the values that he had promised to his voters.
He quickly showed his disappointment about what Italy had become after the (Italian) unification. This feeling is expressed by a Latin phrase from 1870, which can be found in a niche of the corridor of stalactites, which states the following: "I am ashamed to say it, but it's true: Italy is in the hands of thieves, debt collectors, prostitutes and brokers, which control and devour it. But it is not that, what I'm ashamed of, but the fact that we deserve this."
Regarding the castle, he was owner and builder at the same time; although he had no university degree, he had the abilities of an engineer, an architect and a geologist. This allowed him to design, plan and finance the castle by using local products and employing mostly native manpower.
As an expert and passionate botanist Ferdinando plan a vast area surrounding the castle of approximately 65 hectares, the so-called historical park. Around the ancient “Ragnaia", which was characterized by a great forest of evergreen oaks, he recreated the habitat for numerous seldom and exotic plants. His intent was to prepare step-by-step visitors and guests to the magnificence of the “Moorish” style of the castle.
Today, the castle together with its Historical Park endowed significant historical, architectural and landscape values. The park held an enormous botanical treasure, created both by the great variety of imported plants, as well as by extraordinary domestic tree species. Amongst the imported species the best known are without doubt, the Californian sequoias. These plants found favorable soil and climatic conditions in Sammezzano, as proved by the important dimensions they have reached within only 150 years. The most famous sequoia is the so-called “twin-sequoia”. This plant is 50 meters tall and has a circumference of 8,4 meters. Interestingly, it has been included in “the most magnificent trees of Italy” and within the “150 extraordinary trees with monumental and environmental value”. Regarding the domestic tree species, the park display a large selection of oaks: the evergreen oak, the summer oak, the turkey oak, the sessile oak and, another rare specie, the cork oak.
In the 70’s the castle of Sammezzano was transformed into a Hotel-Restaurant center. However the business closed in 1990. In the late 90’s, after several events, the property passed into the ownership of a group of English and Italian societies. The society plan was to performed an important renovation and re-open Sammezzano for touristic purpose. However, no actions have been realized and the castle remained unused until today.
COMMITTEE FOR FERDINANDO PANCIATICHI XIMENES D’ARAGONA
One can experience the true value of Sammezzano castle only knowing and understanding the history and the sophisticated, complex and restless personality of Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona.
On the occasion of his bicentenary (March 10th 1813-2013), the group “Comitato FPXA” was created to promote the knowledge of the castle and the park by studying the personality of Ferdinando.
We would like to drive your attention to the book “Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona, Sammezzano e il Sogno d’Oriente”; published by Sillabe and released by Emanuele Masiello and Ethel Santacroce. The book contains the documents of the conference organized by the Committee that was held in Sammezzano May 31st and June 1st, 2013.
Thanks to the owner´s disposition it is possible to organize few guided openings in collaboration with local voluntary organizations. To participate, it is necessary to register at either one of the following websites:
• The Homepage www.sammezzano.org;
• The Facebook-page “Sammezzano-comitato FPXA”
We would like to stress that the committee is a non-profit organization.
For 2015, one of the committee aims is to contribute and collaborate with the municipality of Reggello to the restoration of the sepulchre of Ferdinando in the cemetery of Sociana (close to the castle)
For this project it is possible to donate as follows:
• Bank transfer: CC 1000/474 branch of Banca CR Firenze di Rignano sull’ Arno, purpose
“10 marzo 1813 2013 comitato 200 anni nascita Marchese Ximenes”,
We would like to thank in advance those who participate with their donations or their activities in the initiatives of the committee FPXA.