They say that each of us dies three deaths: the moment when your heart stops, when you are buried and the last time someone says your name. The name of Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona probably means nothing even to most Florentine and Tuscan history experts.
Only one photograph exists of this nineteenth-century nobleman, who was an architect, engineer, botanist, philosopher and a distinguished member of the Italian parliament from 1864 to 1867. While his name might have slipped into oblivion, his most majestic creation still lives on as one of Tuscany’s most enigmatic secrets.
Tucked away in Leccio, a 45-minute ride from Florence and a stone’s throw from The Mall Outlet, is the magical Castle of Sammezzano. It was the dream and raison d’être of Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona. While most of his contemporaries were proudly creating a modern Florence, which had, at the time, been chosen to be the capital of newly united Italy, Ferdinando’s vision turned to the distant world of the Orient. Like any other visionary, the marchese, misunderstood and ridiculed by his contemporaries, built for himself a home whose façade was the color of Saharan sand and whose rooms were inspired by distant lands (which he never actually visited). His was a world of imagination, color and brilliant, carefully studied light.
The castle’s splendid rooms, which even during the lifetime of their creator received very few visitors, have been closed to public for more than 20 years. Many locals cherish the memories of the time when Sammezzano was used to celebrate weddings, baptisms and special events, but its doors have been closed since the property was purchased by an Italian–English company with an ambitious but unrealized plan to transform it into a luxury hotel.
On March 10th, 2013, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the birthday of Ferdinando Panciatichi, a namesake committee was formed to honor the life of this extraordinary man. The committee organizes occasional visits to the castle, but its ultimate mission is to save Sammezzano. Thanks to the work of the committee and its president Massimo Sottani, the name of Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona still rings far and wide.
For information on how to visit Sammezzano Castle, [email protected] (or join the Facebook page Sammezzano – Comitato FPXA). The Committee organizes several visits each year, which "sell" out almost immediately: the last opening for a full day of tours (750 spots) filled in only 27 seconds! www.sammezzano.org.
Photos by Marco Badiani