Less than twenty miles south of Florence in the town of Leccio lies the amazing Castle of Sammezzano. Situated on top of a hill and surrounded by ancient trees, it may well be the world’s most extravagant abandoned property.
The foundations of Sammezzano date back to the Romans and during the Middle Ages it was the site of a defensive fortress. In later centuries, its owners included noble families such as the Gaultierotti, Altoviti and the Medici.
The property was bought in 1605 by nobleman Sebastiano Ximenes of Aragon who built the castle. It passed into the Panciatichi family in 1816 by way of the wife of the last Ximenes d’Aragona. Two generations later, the castle became the property of the man who changed its destiny – Marquis Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona.
Between 1842 and 1890, Ferdinando completely reshaped the structure into an Orientalist palace in line with the fashion of the time, particularly in Florence. The result is a stunning mix of the Moorish, Byzantine, Indian and Chinese adornments. Using entirely local craftsmen, he had all the bricks, tiles and friezes made under his supervision on site.
the castle now
It is almost inconceivable that the palazzo’s 365 rooms – one for every day of the year – has its own name and each is unique in style and decor. Its most famous rooms are the remarkable Peacock Room with its fantastic and colorful geometric designs, the Hall of Mirrors and the octagon Smoking Room. The Great White Rotunda has Moroccan mosaic tiled floors, wrought iron chandeliers and a glass dome surrounded by a balcony. Shields adorn the base of the dome bearing the Latin inscriptions ‘Fortitudo, Elementia, Temperantia, Pax, Prudentia, Justitia and Libertas’ (Strength, Elements, Temperance, Peace, Prudence, Justice and Liberty). Other rooms include the Hall of Lilies, the Stalactites, the Lovers and also a small chapel. The Marquis used a multitude of architectural elements to enhance his creation, including hidden niches, corners, friezes, windows, columns, labyrinths, capitals, arches, vaults and domes.
After the Marquis’ death, Sammezzano was converted into a luxury hotel with a spa, country club and golf course. The castle’s commercial life thrived in the post-World War II era, but as revenues dwindled, the hotel was shuttered in the 1990s. The property sat idle for nine years when it was purchased by investors, but their money ran out before a full restoration was completed. In 2012, a group of local businesses and residents formed the FPXA committee (short for Ferdinand Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragon) and acquired the property. Since then, they have sought to secure funds to properly restore the masterpiece.