Grazzano Visconti

 

Back in the Fourteenth century, laws in northern Italy were very clear: nobody but the lord of Milano was allowed to build fortress or any other building that could be converted to military use – a sensible choice, if you wanted to protect yourself from the lower noblemen who constantly conspired against you. No exceptions were considered even for the other members of the Visconti family, the one you might familiar with thanks to its Biscione, the family emblem depicting a giant snake eating a man, which to this day remains the symbol of the town of Milano. This is why the 1394 edict granting lady Beatrice Visconti the permission to build herself a castle was considered a scandal. What most critics didn’t know, however, was that the castle was to be built in a god-forsaken land very far from any really important town and market route, off the city of Piacenza.

The military unimportant fortress was buit according to plans, and in a similarly predictable fashion fell into abandonment relatively soon, along with the few sad huts surrounding it. The castle however kept passing from a Visconti generation to the next, until in the early Twentieth century Giuseppe Visconti di Modrone, now the owner, decided to put the building to some use. Taking inspiration from the architectural fad of Renaissance Neo-Gothic style – which basically meant creating faux-Medieval buildings that looked like fairytale places instead of actual ancient buildings – he renovated the castle and ordered a whole village to be built next to it.

The castle was to become his actual private home, while the village was conceived a sort of Renaissance theme park for tourists to visit. The idea was well received by everyone, and the newly christened burg of Grazzano Visconti has been a classic destination for family outings ever since. The village is quite small but very well kept. It can only be accessed on foot, which greatly contributes to its out-of-time atmosphere. The buildings are largely restaurants, shops selling artisanal crafts (wrought iron in particular), art galleries and a small museum dedicated to historical farming. Walking the winding streets is however very pleasant thanks to the beautiful architecture and scenic views.

The castle itself cannot be visited, but its very large park can on Saturdays and Sundays. It is the highlight of the place thanks to a marvelous scenic garden, the grove of ancient trees, a hedge labyrinth and a spectacular belvedere. There live several rather rare wild animals including foxes, squirrels and owls. The latter can be seen during special nighttime tours – the only ones of this kind in Italy. The burg is also frequently used for filming, conventions and festivals. During the last Sunday of May and the second Sunday of September in particular all the villagers dress in historic costumes both for parades and for their routine jobs, contributing to the magic of the place.

Also magical – even supernatural – is the ghost of castle, called Aloisa. According to legend she was a small and rotund woman whose spirit still walks the streets of Grazzano Visconti by night, attacking the few guests who rented a private home to stay during closing time. The only way to placate the ghost is supposed to be hanging some of your jewelry on her stone statue in the main square. And yes, the place is as fun as it is tacky. But Giuseppe Visconti had a saying about this, written (backwards) on the official burg standard: “brush it off and keep your head up”. So far it looks like it worked.