The legend of the duke of Villa Litta

The noble Litta family was one of the most powerful houses in Lombardy in Leonardo da Vinci’s times, owning many beautiful villas, properties and buildings all over the area around Milano. The most peculiar of them all surely was the “nympheum” in Lainate, a small park centered around a baroque construction built to amuse the guests of the dukes.

The building went through centuries of abandonment and disrepair (it was once used as stables for cows and later to grow silkworms), but in the last few decades it has gone under the protection of a local association that is slowly bringing it back to its original splendor. These art experts and restorers hold frequent tours of the place, but it is only in this occasion that they do it wearing historical clothing from the Renaissance and accompanying visitors in character as the members of the Litta family, recounting the tales from their era. The torchlit nighttime tours are especially spectacular. What makes the place special are the “water amusements” hiding everywhere through it. Originally fueled by a water tower designed by Leonardo himself, they power everything from rather normal-looking fountains to the very walls of the building. Hidden controls and ingenuous pressure-sensitive parts of the floors activate thousands of concealed spouts, sprays, jets, moving decorations and so on – leaving the visitors as drenched as they are speechless.

Restoring a centuries-old delicate water system hidden behind priceless frescoes and sculptures is an incredibly difficult job which relies almost completely on the income from the tours, so every passing year you are bound to find a little improvement over the already wonderful restoration. The latest of them was, to make an example, the historically-accurate rebuilding of a “water organ” which plays an otherworldly music as you pass through artificial grottos which were once famous worldwide as a sort of ancient version of Disneyland.

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