Castle of Racconigi

Castle of Racconigi


Location: Racconigi Map

Constructed: 11th century


Castle of Racconigi is located in Racconigi, Piedmont region of Italy. Its construction began in the 11th century. Over centuries Castle of Racconigi changed its appearance several times to serve as a residency of the Royal House of Savoy. Today the palace is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is open to the public. Castle of Racconigi is surrounded by a beautiful landscape park that was designated and created by Emmanuel Philiberto. In the late 18th century it was remodeled in a more English style to follow the fashion style of the period.



Origins (11th century)

The first news of a fortification in Racconigi dates back to the 11th century, when the territory was part of the Marca di Torino and where Bernardino di Susa built or adapted an ancient stronghold, on the remains of a previous monastery.

In 1091, on the death of the Marquise Adelaide of Susa, the territories were occupied by his nephew Bonifacio del Vasto and the fief of Racconigi then became part of the possessions of the Marquises of Saluzzo.

Subsequently, the nephew of Bonifacio del Vasto Manfredo II of Saluzzo enlarged the existing structure by raising a first square-plan castle with an internal courtyard, making it a strategic defense for the territories of the marquisate.


From medieval fortress to "villa of delights" (14th-18th century)

In 1372 the Marquis Federico II of Saluzzo ceded the castle to the Falletti counts as a pledge but after a few years it returned to the property of the Marquises of Saluzzo. Finally, in the second half of the fourteenth century, an illegitimate son of Ludovico, the last prince of Savoy-Acaia, obtained the fiefdom and the castle of Racconigi, starting the dynastic line of the Savoy-Racconigi extinct in 1605.

In 1620 the Duke Carlo Emanuele I of Savoy gave it to his son Tommaso Francesco di Savoia, founder of the Savoy-Carignano dynasty. At the time, the structure looked like a classic medieval castle: a massive bare brick fortress with a square plan, with four large corner towers, moat, drawbridge and a tall side keep.

"... it was originally more suited to stifle the rush of hostile weapons rather than a pleasant residence, because it was equipped with sturdy towers on the corners, and ditches around, and battlements ..."

The structure of the structure, which remained almost unchanged until the middle of the seventeenth century, was subjected to a first alteration at the behest of Tommaso's son, Emanuele Filiberto, who commissioned the first, complete transformation of the fortress into a "delight" from Guarino Guarini . Using the large internal space of the court, he raised a large central body with a "pagoda" roof; moreover, on the basis of the two corner towers of the northern facade, he developed the two four-storey pavilions, surmounted by a quadrangular domed roof with white marble lanterns. However, Guarini's grandiose project not only involved the building, but also saw the assistance of the well-known French architect André Le Nôtre, who took care of the reorganization of the vast park. When the works were completed, on 7 November 1684 Emanuele Filiberto married Racconigi Maria Caterina D'Este.


The neoclassical transformation (18th century)

Starting from 1757, Ludovico Luigi Vittorio di Carignano commissioned the architect Giovanni Battista Borra to make a notable reworking according to the neoclassical taste typical of the time, to which we owe the reconstruction of the southern facade with the addition of the tetrastyle porch with Corinthian columns surmounted by the pediment triangular notched Palladian inspiration and the monumental staircase in front. The internal interventions, on the other hand, involved the Hall of Hercules, the adjoining Hall of Diana and the preparation of the rooms of the Chinese Apartment, decorated with precious rice paper wallpapers.


The Albertine period (19th century)

The current appearance of the building is largely the result of the remodeling wanted in 1832 by the last prince of Carignano, as well as the new king of Sardinia, Carlo Alberto. He deemed it necessary to further expand and embellish the residence, which from that moment on ceased to belong to the Savoy-Carignano family to pass to the crown of Sardinia, thus assuming the status of "royal residence", as well as being elected seat of the "Reali Villeggiature".

The sovereign entrusted the work to engineer Ernesto Melano, who further raised the ancient quadrangular structure around the central body and developed the two large side sleeves of the southern façade, re-proposing the theme of the "pagoda" dome as a cover for the two corner turrets. In addition, the arrangement included the reconstruction of the square and the construction of the "C" -shaped buildings that connect the new wings of the south elevation to the rear pavilions of the northern facade. At the same time as this intervention, a mill and some houses in front of it were also demolished, which hid the castle from view, giving rise to the large square in front of the main entrance, in line with the long tree-lined avenue in front.


The interiors were instead rearranged to meet the needs of the time, entrusting the work to Pelagio Palagi, who redecorated the new rooms while maintaining consistency with the neoclassical taste. The cabinetmaker from Asti also worked with him, Gabriele Capello, known as "il Moncalvo", of whom one remembers, among the numerous works preserved in the castle, the precious inlays that adorn the furnishings and doors of the Etruscan Cabinet, the personal study of King Charles Alberto.

Starting from 1834, the west gallery was the object of the work of the painter Marco Antonio Trefogli, who decorated it with refined grotesques, depicting fruit and birds. Together with Luigi Cinnati, Trefogli also created ornaments and arabesques for the reception room and the dining room. For Carlo Alberto's bathroom, he painted floral motifs in the ornamental bands, as well as grotesques, amphorae, shells, swans and griffins, while in the frieze above the cornice figures of dragons alternating with spirals were inserted.

The arrangement of the park, on the other hand, was entrusted to the German landscape architect Xavier Kurten, who transformed the previous work of Le Nôtre in favor of a romantic setting. The project and construction of the Margarìa, the neo-Gothic style farmhouse located at the end of the park, again the result of the collaboration of Ernesto Melano and Pelagio Palagi, is also from these years. It was in the avenues of this park on 19 August 1840 that the first meeting took place, organized by their respective families, between Prince Vittorio Emanuele, the future first king of Italy and his first wife, as well as cousin Maria Adelaide of Habsburg-Lorraine. The two married two years later (1842) at the hunting lodge of Stupinigi and the marriage was born, among other children, the Crown Prince Umberto I.


The twentieth century: from the return of royal stays to abandonment (twentieth century)

In the following years, Carlo Alberto's successors visited the residence less assiduously; however, with the coming to the throne of Vittorio Emanuele III in July 1900, the residence once again became the seat of the "royal holidays" in the summer and autumn months. In 1901 the castle was equipped with water and electricity systems, with a new lighting system along the entire walls of the park, and in 1902 a Stigler lift was installed. Also Vittorio Emanuele III was responsible for the decoration of the internal walls of the Staircase of Honor, one of which shows one of the most complete genealogical representations of the royal family, the work of Adolfo Dalbesio, also author of the other four large canvases depicting the coats of arms of the House Savoy.

According to the new needs of the royal family, many rooms of the castle were modernized, including the apartment of the kings on the second floor. Here, in 1904, the last king of Italy Umberto II was born and a series of important events followed one another: in 1909 the residence was the site of the visit of Tsar Nicholas II, while in 1925 the wedding of Princess Mafalda took place.

In 1930 Prince Umberto received the residence as a gift, on the occasion of his wedding with Princess Maria José of Belgium, celebrated in Rome. He was responsible for the meticulous finding in the other Savoy residences of numerous family paintings, now preserved in the various galleries and in the numerous corridors, and a collection of documentation on the Shroud of Turin. Some blocks of apartments on the second floor were also renovated, including the bathrooms of the princes of Piedmont and the music room, with ceilings and walls decorated in a futurist style by Fiore Martelli, a pupil of the illustrious Giò Ponti.

Following the results of the institutional referendum of June 2, 1946, the castle was closed and taken over by the Italian state. The princesses Jolanda, Giovanna and Maria and the heirs of the already deceased Mafalda filed a lawsuit on the illegitimacy of the 1930 donation to Umberto II. In fact the Court of Cassation in 1972 decreed that only one fifth of the building was confiscable, that is the one owned by Umberto II, but that the Italian State had to be guaranteed the right of pre-emption, in case of sale to a private individual. In 1980, after thirty-four years of exile, Umberto II decided to sell the entire property to the State, placing a single clause: that the residence and all the properties attached to it were related to the theme of "knowledge" and, therefore, that this would determine a use intended for cultural activities of a popular nature.


1993: the reopening and rebirth as a museum center

Reopened on 23 May 1993 on the initiative of the councilor Pino Perrone through an agreement with the Superintendence of Environmental Heritage, the Racconigi Red Cross and Volunteers Fire Brigade, the residence is largely open to visitors and is the subject of constant conservative restorations aimed at preserving the structure and to restore the noble floors of the building to their former glory. The castle represents one of the best preserved Savoy residences, boasting an appreciable endowment of furnishings, paintings and furnishings and is constantly the seat of cultural events and activities.



The castle houses rooms created in the eighteenth century, other neoclassical ones, up to including rooms in a deco style dating back to the first half of the twentieth century. Carefully restored, they maintain the original decorations and settings preserved over the centuries.

Among them the most relevant are, in chronological order: the Hercules room, the Diana room, the Chinese apartment, the dining room, the reception room, the famous Etruscan cabinet, the library of Carlo Alberto, the cabinet of Apollo, and the royal chapel, dedicated to the Madonna della Neve. On the second noble floor, instead, there are the apartments renovated in the first three decades of the twentieth century including: the bedroom of Queen Elena, the bathroom of Umberto II and the living room of Maria José's Music.


The Hall of Hercules

Dedicated to the myth of Hercules, this room is the result of the intervention of 1757 by the architect Giovanni Battista Borra. The hall, in neoclassical style, corresponds to the ancient inner courtyard of the previous medieval structure and served as an atrium to welcome guests but, given the capacity and excellent acoustics, it was also used as a ballroom, positioning the orchestra on the « Loggia dei Musici », which surmounts the three pairs of Ionic columns and the access to the adjoining Hall of Diana. In the lower portion, the walls host six niches with pediments, which contain as many sculptures by Giuseppe Bolina representing the labors of Hercules; in the upper register there are other stuccos by Bolina and Lombardi, depicting hunting scenes with animals and weapons. The vault of the dome, on the other hand, is painted in trompe-l'œil and depicts a realistic lacunar roof.


Diana's room

Together with the Hall of Hercules and the Chinese Apartment, it represents the ensemble of the eighteenth-century rearrangements by the architect Giovanni Battista Borra. Used as the entrance hall to the residence, the Diana room is characterized by four large medallions depicting the myth of the goddess of the hunt. The large windows allow you to admire the glimpse of the vast park overlooked by the terrace and the staircase of the northern facade. Among the four large Murano chandeliers that hang from the ceiling, you can also admire a bas-relief depicting Apollo on the chariot of the Sun. Finally, the two marble fireplaces, the work of the famous Guarino Guarini, are of considerable value.


The Chinese apartment

Built around the middle of the eighteenth century at the behest of Ludovico Luigi Vittorio di Carignano, the rooms of the Chinese Apartment were part of a larger space named royal guesthouse, including at least six other oriental-style rooms, according to the widespread fashion of the time. The five remaining rooms are characterized by the precious hand-painted wallpapers on rice paper, purchased in London by Prince Ludwig and perfectly preserved thanks to the application on special wooden frames. To complete the rooms are the furnishings, cloisonné vases, ancient porcelain, the two screens with Chinese decorations by the painter Carlo Cussetti and a Japanese sedan chair. These rooms, dedicated to distinguished guests, hosted Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I during their short holidays, but also illustrious guests such as Tsar Nicholas II who visited Racconigi in 1909.


The Etruscan cabinet

Conceived as Carlo Alberto's private studio, it is, together with the reception room, Apollo's cabinet and the Albertina library, the nucleus of environments in which the sovereign carried out administrative and political duties during his royal vacations. The Etruscan Cabinet, located on the second floor, is one of the most important points of this residence, with works by Pelagio Palagi and cabinetmaker Gabriele Capello known as "Moncalvo". The charm of contemporary archaeological discoveries is abundantly re-proposed throughout the rich decorative apparatus of the studio, which reproduces typical stylistic features of Etruscan and Greek vase painting.


Made in the 1830s, it includes wall paintings divided into large squares and a continuous frieze in the upper register. The floor is made of mosaics, while on the ribbed vault are reproduced the frescoes of the Baron's Tomb, located in the Etruscan necropolis of Monterozzi (near Tarquinia), discovered in 1827.

The doors of the two entrance doors, the armchairs, the center table and the wooden bases on which the Etruscan vases rest show a complex inlay depicting the twelve gods of Olympus by the cabinetmaker Gabriele Capello, based on a design by Pelagio Palagi. In 1851, the center table, a column base and a right door panel were presented at the Great Exhibition held at the Crystal Palace in London; in addition to the "Furniture" sector award, they received a special mention in the exhibition catalog which defined them as «objects worthy of occupying a place in the palace of every sovereign».


The reception room

It is the most sumptuous castle environment, where the profusion of gilding evoked the prestige and power of the sovereign. Here Carlo Alberto and his successors hosted important personalities such as ambassadors, advisers and dignitaries. The ceiling, densely decorated with neoclassical motifs in gold leaf, bears the monogram of Carlo Alberto, also repeated in the furnishings and on the damask walls. The sofas and armchairs with monopod lions are upholstered in the typical Savoy blue; Finally, the large Bohemian crystal chandelier and the parure of neo-Gothic candelabra placed next to the mantel clock depicting the cathedral of Reims are of considerable value.


Corridor F apartments, also known as the princely apartments

Accessible from the first stretch of corridor F, now better known as the portrait gallery, these apartments were modernized in the early twentieth century. It is a series of modestly sized rooms, five of which are preceded by an antechamber with attached services and a staircase connecting with the mezzanine floor above. It has been argued that after 1901 they would have hosted the children of Vittorio Emanuele III, that is the crown prince Umberto with his sisters Iolanda, Mafalda, Giovanna and Maria. On this basis, the rooms were rearranged in 2007 by the Castle Management, which, despite the lack of archival sources, chose to attribute the first three bedrooms to the princesses Jolanda, Mafalda and Giovanna and the corner apartment to Prince Umberto. larger and more spacious. Curiously, the set-up did not envisage recreating the room of Princess Maria, even if the youngest child of Vittorio Emanuele III, born in Rome in 1914, still had the opportunity to stay several times in Racconigi.

Recent research has made it possible to formulate new hypotheses on the actual location of the apartment of the little Savoyard princes in the early decades of the twentieth century. Their apartment was, in fact, set up not on the first floor (as is erroneously claimed in some recently published guides), but on the second floor, near the rooms of Queen Elena, more precisely in the Guarinian pavilion of the east (current apartment called di Umberto II). It was also found that the rooms located along the portrait gallery were actually intended for various members of the court, including Queen Helen's Lady and Gentleman of the Court. Each apartment, comfortably disengaged, could communicate through a narrow staircase to the well with the rooms reserved for the service personnel of the court characters, personnel that in the lists of the Ministry of the Royal House was defined "Private livery".

During the 1930s these apartments certainly housed the children of Umberto II and Maria José of Belgium, while the staff assigned to them housed in the mezzanine above. From this fact probably derives the custom of defining these rooms "apartment of the princes".


The portrait gallery or "Corridor F"

The long corridor that gives access to various apartments, mostly intended for guests or members of the court, takes its name from the iconographic collection patiently set up by Crown Prince Umberto II starting from the 1920s. Of great historical and artistic value, the numerous portraits exhibited here constitute a fairly complete dynastic journey, also including paintings by members of other Italian and European noble families. According to some sources, the environment would be devoid of decorations since this sleeve would have hosted, at the behest of Queen Margherita, the sick suffering from the typhoid fever that hit Racconigi towards the end of the nineteenth century. To heal the premises it would have been necessary to apply a few layers of lime before and after the patients' hospitalization, to the detriment of the pre-existing decorations. However, it should be noted that still in 1901 and 1902 some restorers were paid for the restoration of the existing paintings in the gallery and that, only in 1903, it was decided to change "the wall decoration to a painting, with another in stucco and frames apply family portraits in the same ".


The second floor apartments

Already occupied in the nineteenth century by King Carlo Alberto and Queen Maria Teresa, by the Dukes of Savoy (the future Vittorio Emanuele II and Maria Adelaide of Habsburg), by their children and by the knight of honor of Queen Maria Teresa, the second floor noble residence was completely renovated from the early twentieth century. The déco taste of this period strongly characterized the rooms, giving it a sobriety and an elegance more similar to bourgeois life, rather than the ostentatious pomp typical of a royal residence.


The bedroom of Maria José, formerly of Queen Elena

 Queen Elena chose a modern setting for her bedroom, emphasized by the elegant double bed in a deco style to share with her husband, which until then was unusual in similar contexts. The room also features Edwardian-style white lacquered furniture, made by the famous English company Warings & Gillow, which seems to recall the nautical furnishings of the bedroom of the royal yacht that hosted the future sovereigns during their honeymoon to the island. of Montecristo. In this room, on September 15, 1904, Elena of Montenegro gave birth to the last king of Italy, Umberto II.


The bathroom of Umberto II

Built in the space that previously housed the antechamber of Vittorio Emanuele II's apartment, the bathroom was built in 1930 at the behest of Prince Umberto II, commissioning Fiore Martelli, a student at the ISIA in Monza, to create the wallpapers. ; by his teacher Gio Ponti, on the other hand, are the deco-style furnishings and bathroom fixtures. As in Queen Elena's bathroom, here too there are the major technological innovations of the time such as the running water system, heating and linoleum flooring.


Maria José's music lounge

Princess Maria José's apartment was built in correspondence with the nineteenth-century rooms reserved for the lady of the palace. Among all the rooms stands out the Music room where she loved to entertain her guests and listen to music. Completed in the summer of 1931, the room features a ceiling decorated by Fiore Martelli with stylized motifs depicting musical instruments. Among the furnishings it is worth noting a Frau armchair, a gramophone, the Venini chandelier in Murano glass and a painting of the young princess by Gregorio Calvi di Bergolo, part of his private collection which also boasts the presence of paintings by Casorati and Severini, admirable in the adjacent living room.


The kitchens of the east wing

"In the cellars there is the kitchen, with the annexed rooms; the kitchen compartment is 15.50 meters long, its width is 10.50 meters with" potaggiere "and machines made by De Zana who came expressly from Vienna; on the south side there are woods, cellars and charcoal pits.


Built at the same time as the east extension, these characteristic kitchens were a real example of modernity: equipped with a wide range of dishes, molds, tools, marble sinks, two large wood-burning kitchens, the so-called "potaggiere", over time they were also equipped with other "economic" kitchens and an ingenious gear rotisserie in the large fireplace in the center of the room. In 1903, with the advent of electricity, lighting and a new plumbing system with a hot water boiler were installed. Coordinating the so-called Bocca Offices was an inspector in charge, who had his office next to the main hall that houses the kitchens. In the adjoining rooms you can also see the icebox and the butcher's shop, characterized by the marble cladding on the walls and the sloping floor to facilitate drainage and the relative washing operations.

Further rooms dedicated to the original tasks of "provisional, fruit-making, someglieria, credenza, vassella and lingeria" are located on the ground floor, in the rooms previously used for the ancient seventeenth-century kitchen; as the original names suggest, they were the premises responsible for the conservation and management of food supplies, fruit, wines, drinks and the rich set of dishes and tablecloths.



The park

The castle faces north towards an imposing French-style park of about 170 hectares, bordered by a 6 km long wall. At the end of the seventeenth century the park appeared according to the geometric rigor conferred on it by the French architect André Le Nôtre, the same author of the gardens of the Palace of Versailles.

About a century later, at the behest of Princess Giuseppina of Lorraine-Armagnac, the park saw a transformation by Giacomo Pregliasco, who redesigned a part of it, offering new paths immersed in a luxuriant and apparently wild nature. The completion of the park in the romantic style, as it appears today, is due to Carlo Alberto, who in 1836 entrusted the work to the Prussian landscape architect Xavier Kurten. He dedicated himself to the reorganization of the lake, the avenues and the waterways and, with the addition of bridges, hills and new rows of trees, he made it a typical 19th century park.

The Roda brothers took over the direction of the park: Marcellino from 1843 to 1859 and Pietro Giuseppe from 1860 to 1870. Under their management, the royal park acquired fame at European level for the vast production of rare flowers and exotic fruit plants that two brothers cultivated flowers and fruit in the gardens and in the new heated greenhouse commissioned by Carlo Alberto.

Between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the park was mainly used as a hunting reserve and agricultural estate, so much so that some small portions were reserved for crops of corn and cereals. However, from the Second World War onwards there was a certain lack of maintenance and a progressive state of abandonment.

From the reopening of the castle on 24 May 1993 onwards, the park has also been the subject of a series of careful restoration interventions, aimed at restoring it to the appearance given to it by Kurten in the nineteenth century. Once again open to the public, the park offers a great variety of protected plant and animal species, a network of avenues and paths with a total development of 25 km, water basins (including the 18-hectare lake), large flower beds and , like the castle, it is a regular place for cultural activities and events.

In 2010 the park was chosen among the top ten finalists and then declared the winner in the competition The most beautiful parks of Italy 2010; also in the same year the park hosted the International Sculpture Biennial as part of the International Sculpture initiative in Racconigi, 2010. Present and past experience.


Flora and fauna

The park contains over 2,000 trees, some of which reach heights of over thirty meters. The most common are the ash and maple trees but there is no lack of horse chestnuts, oaks, elms, hornbeams, ailanti, plane trees, limes and cedars. There are also sporadic fruit trees such as apple, cherry and hazel. The largest trees in the park are an oriental plane tree 42 meters high, whose trunk with a circular section has a development of about 6 meters and a 35 meters high zelkova, about two hundred years old. This last botanical species, with its stem of 8.45 meters in circumference, is the largest specimen in Piedmont.


The innermost part of the park is populated by various species of birds: gray herons, egrets, ducks, brown kites, buzzards and woodpeckers. The now famous Racconigi storks, on the other hand, nest above all on the cusps of the Margarìa and on the chimneys of the castle. In addition to birds, the presence of squirrels and even badgers and foxes is reported.


The canals of the park

As mentioned, the park is crossed by a network of canals that converge allowing the constant water exchange of the lake, otherwise destined for evaporation or swamping. This canalization system draws water from the nearby Maira stream through the Brunetta canal, which then distributes it to the various secondary canals that run through the park. A small dock was also set up on the lakeshore, no longer usable, for mooring small boats for trips on the lake and in the canals.

Buildings in the park
In the second half of the eighteenth century, the scenographer Giacomo Pregliasco, at the same time as the rearrangement of part of the park in a romantic style, built small but significant constructions such as the hermitage and a small Gothic church which later became Fagianaia, for the breeding of pheasants and doves.

Another prominent building is the Doric Temple, deliberately incomplete to give the effect of a ruin that has survived to this day, located on a hill by the lake. This typically romantic place was dear to Carlo Alberto's grandmother, Giuseppina di Lorena-Armagnac and houses the so-called Grotta del Mago Merlino, a small artificial tunnel covered with plaster mixed with glittering stones and contextual installations of stalactites, stalagmites from the Bossea caves , in the valleys of the Monregalese. The cave is dedicated to the legendary figure of Merlin, who would have been seduced by a woman, the Lady of the Lake, who would have made him lose his powers; the cave therefore had the symbolic function of evoking the legend of the Savoy rulers, to protect them from counterproductive amorous passions.


«Siste Viator
sapientis Merlini cineres incipiens
quo usque nos ducat cerus amor
prudens recogita»

(Giuseppina di Lorena-Armagnac)
Stop, o traveler, the ashes of wise Merlin that lead to the deer love lead us to reflect prudently.


Also worthy of attention in the park is the Russian dacha, a formerly adapted construction. The structure is home to the park library. Also noteworthy is the Palazzina Svizzera at the eastern entrance of the castle.

Of great value is the so-called rural complex of Margarìa, a neo-Gothic style farmhouse designed by Palagi and precursor of modern organic farms. Located at the north-western end of the park, it is characterized by the integral brick cladding and the large internal porch. In the tower on the right of the main façade of the Margarìa there is the Reposoir della Regina, containing neo-Gothic furnishings by Gabriele Capello. Inside the Margarìa complex there is also the elegant structure of the Royal Greenhouses, the work of Carlo Sada, with a state-of-the-art heating system for the time.