I had been living in Capranica, Italy, a town about 45 miles north of Rome for a few months. While visiting the surrounding villages, I stumbled upon the town of Vignanello, about 15 miles away. The main square, as in any other medieval town, was the center of existence. It had it all, a fountain for drinking, doing laundry and catching up on gossip. Also, most had a castle as the focal point. Here it was the Ruspoli Castle, closed to tourists, except by reservation. I phoned and planned on a guided tour for the following morning.
Eagerly waiting for tour members to join me, I headed for the front entrance of the castle. But as fate would have it, the group was in the back of the castle at the gate that led to the gardens. All of a sudden, a tall blond woman approached and asked me if I was waiting to go into the castle. She took out a key and opened the huge door. It was Princess Giada Ruspoli, who had come from the café next door. She let me in, where I joined the group. The guide then proceeded to talk about the history of the magnificent castle.
Castello Ruspoli was built in 1531 by Sforza Marescotti, a cousin of Ruspoli and his wife, Ortensia Baglioni. They employed the famous architect Antonio Sangallo the Younger to build their Renaissance palace. It was complete with a moat and drawbridge and magnificent gardens. The north wing was frescoed in 1725 for the occasion of the visit of Pope Benedict XIII. In 1704, Vittoria Ruspoli married Sforza Vicino Marescotti. The Ruspoli family were bankers from Florence and Siena and their coat of arms still hangs in the castle. On a table in one of the rooms are Papal slippers worn by Pope Benedict XIII, when he came to bless the church the Ruspoli family built across from the castle.
The grounds, which included a sophisticated Italian garden, was commissioned by Alfonso Marescotti and his wife, Giulia Baglioni in the second half of the 16th century. The gardens still thrive today, with the original hedges planted so many centuries ago. From an upstairs window, one can see the initials carved into the hedges of Ottavio Orsini and her sons, Sforza Vicino and Galeazzo. The water that feeds the gardens was brought in with the help of Cardinal Farnese from the town of Corchiano. And, there is also a secret garden, recorded in 1681, with more than sixty large vases with the coat of arms on them, filled with some basil, lemon and orange plants.
In 1585, a saint was born in the castle to Marcantonio Sforza Marescotti. Her name was Clarice and she lived the life of luxury for decades. She became known as Giacinta Marescotti after she went to live in a monastery, embracing the simple life in a bare cell, with a rope tied to a large cross bound around her. She died in 1640 on January 30, now her feast day.
The Marescotti-Ruspoli family were participants in important events throughout European history. Some fought in the Crusades; some were Knights Templars and some went with Amerigo Vespucci to the New World. Others became jurists, ambassadors, Cardinals, scholars, poets, painters and patrons of the arts. Fifteen Popes shared blood ties with the Marescotti-Ruspoli family, as well.
Princess Giada and her sister, Princess Claudia, continue to reside in the castle today and are restoring it to its Renaissance glory.
So, when you are in Vignanello, a visit to Castello Ruspoli must be on your itinerary. It is open by request only for tours and can be booked for private parties, corporate events and destination weddings.