A monumental building full of history, charm and legends, built in the 16th century by Pio Enea I of the Obizzi family in Battaglia Terme (Padova); Catajo Castle is a unique dwelling that over time has served as a royal villa and military lodging, as well as an important literary circle.
The castle was built to celebrate the splendors of the Obizzi family; it was enlarged in the 17th and 18th centuries and subsequently transformed into a ducal palace by the Asburgo-Este family from Modena. Eventually it became the imperial resort of the House of Hamburg, emperors of Austria. Already in the 16th century it had become the location of one the most important collections in Europe.
Catajo Castle was built on orders of the Obizzi family, who originated from Burgundy (France). In Italian history they are considered “soldiers of fortune” who arrived in Italy following emperor Henry II in 1007. In a time of peace, Pio Enea I Obizzi (who gave the name to the howitzer, a siege cannon, in Italian obice), attracted by the beauty of the Euganean Hills, decided to build a palace that would represent the glory of the Obizzi family, enlarging what previously was the maternal house built during the firts few decades of the 16th century, today known as Casa di Beatrice. The castle was designed by Pio Enea himself, aided by the architect Andrea Da Valle, and it was conceived as halfway between a military castle and a royal villa.
The most important part of the castle, called Castel Vecchio, was built in just three years, between 1570 and 1573, although many of the extensions were completed in the second half of the 19th century. The plan in the beginning was to just paint the external walls (now only partially visible), but in 1571 Pio Enea asked Gian Battista Zelotti, disciple of Paolo Veronese, to decorate the inside walls with beautiful paintings depicting the deeds of his family, creating one of the most spectacular fresco cycles of Venetian villas.
The Obizzi stock became extinct in 1830 after marquis Tommaso gave the castle to the heirs of the House of Este, Archdukes of Modena; the new owners Francis IV and Maria Beatrice of Savoia loved the castle and had the most visible wing to the north, Castel Novo, built to host the visiting Austrian imperial court. With the death of Francis V, who was childless, the castle was passed on to Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria. These last two owners were responsible for transfering the vast collection of archeological remains, musical instruments, weapons and paintings put together by the Obizzi to Vienna and to the Konopiste castle in Prague. After the First World War Catajo Castle was confiscated by the Italian government as war reparation. It was auctioned after the Great Depression of 1929 and bought by the Dalla Francesca family who resold it at the end of 2015. The castle is privately owned to this day.
Catajo Castle is open to the public four afternoons a week, on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and on all holidays.
For groups or private visits it can be opened upon request, at any time and day of the year.
When open to the general public, visitors are provided with a tour guide (price included in the ticket), who will accompany the guests in the castle illustrating the characteristics of this historical dwelling.
VILLA BARBARIGO GARDENS
The Monumental complex of Villa Barbarigo Pizzoni Ardemani at Valsanzibio was brought to its contemporary magnificence in the second half of the Seventeenth century by the Venetian noble GiovanFrancesco Berbarigo assisted by his sons Antonio and Gregorio. Actually, it was this last son, the first-born Gregorio, Cardinal, Bishop of Padua and future Saint, that inspired the symbolic meaning of the plan drawn by Luigi Bernini, top Vatican architect and fountain expert. In fact, the then Cardinal Gregorio Barbarigo, in consequence of a solemn ‘vow’ made by his Father to our God in 1631 (see bottom note 1), desired that the garden of Valsanzibio had to be a monumental symbolic road trip to perfection; a journey that brings man from the false to the truth, from ignorance to Revelation. The ‘Diane Pavilion’ or ‘Diane’s Doorway’ was not only the main entrance by water to the estate of the Barbarigo in the 17th and 18th century, but, this majestic and impressive doorway, represented, as it does still today, the beginning of the salvation’s itinerary, wanted by Saint Gregorio Barbarigo, that ends in front of the Villa, in the square of the Mushroom Fountain, the Ecstasy’s Fountain or, indeed, the Fountain of the Revelations.
This exceptional example of baroque gardens consist of 70 statues, engraved in Istria stone by the Merengo (see bottom note 2), and many other different minor sculptures that integrate into a world of architectures, streams, waterfalls, fountains, small ponds, water games and fish ponds, between hundreds of different trees and plants, over an area of more than 10 hectares. Furthermore, inside the monumental complex and essential stage within the itinerary of salvation, there is the century-old boxwood maze, the symbolic Hermit’s Grotto, the Rabbits Island and the Monument to Time.
The symbolic set up of the garden, realized between 1665 and 1696, with its abundant beauty, its unusual amusements and the major message entrusted by its Founder, ranges as one of the most vast and complete historic gardens in the world and was awarded with the first prize as ‘the most beautiful garden in Italy’ in 2003 and as the third most beautiful in Europe in 2007. The merit of this goes to the unceasing and careful attentions provided first by the Nobili Homini Barbarigo, during all the Seventeenth and Eighteenth century, by the Nobil Homo Michiel in the nineteenth century, then later, by the Conti Martinengo da Barco, in the beginning of the twentieth century by the Conti Donà delle Rose and from 1929 by the Nobili Pizzoni dei Conti Ardemani.
VILLA DEI VESCOVI
Harmoniously incorporated into a hilly setting, it stands as a perfect union between Renaissance elegance and Roman classicism.
The splendid Villa dei Vescovi is set in the hamlet of Luvigliano, municipality of Torreglia, and is one of the most charming and elegant villas of the Renaissance around Paduan territory.
The edifice is situated on a hillock, surrounded by a natural amphitheater formed by the mounts Pendice, Pirio and Rina, on one side, and stretching out towards the plain of Torreglia and Abano on the other side. In ancient times this knoll was called Livianum and deemed to be the place chosen by the Roman historian Livy as his country residence. For this further literary suggestion, the hill, owned by the bishops of Padua since the eleventh century, was designed to accommodate a manorial house: the document certifying this first building dates back to 1474. In that period, the humanist bishop Jacopo Zeno, demolished and rebuilt the ancient Pieve di San Martino – that flanked the palace – in the same area where the parish church currently stands.
However, the veritable villa was created in the following century: it was conceived as a holiday home and a meeting place for intellectuals and writers. The decision of rebuilding the construction by developing new forms, was taken by the Cardinal Francesco Pisani, a Venetian noble who grew up in Rome and was therefore fascinated by the classical art of his time; he was the bishop of Padua from 1524 to 1564. The supervision of works was entrusted to the curial administrator Alvise Cornaro, while the operational work was begun by the Veronese architect Giovanni Maria Falconetto. When the latter died in 1535 and his pupil Andrea Da Valle succeeded him, an important role was also played by the architect of the Gonzaga lords (rulers of Mantua): his name was Giulio Romano, met in Rome by Cardinal Pisani who charged him with the modification of the project. This led therefore to the creation of a square building, laid on a high base in ashlar, with outer loggias (lodges) on three sides, central opening on the pattern of ancient villae romane (Roman villas with compluvium) and the main entrance to the south.
In the years 1565-1579 the bishops, who succeeded Cardinal Francesco Pisani, ie Alvise Pisani and Federico Cornaro, commissioned the architects Vincenzo Scamozzi and Da Valle to implement some changes: the main entrance was moved to the west, namely towards the church and the small hilly village. Furthermore, a square courtyard was built on this side, surrounded by a crenellated wall where three monumental arches open. Even today the villa is accessible from the western courtyard, through a double staircase that leads directly to piano nobile (main storey). Later the central opening in the building was also closed.
The interior of the villa _whose main floor was divided into Sala delle figure all’antica (hall of the ancient-style figures), Sala del Putto (Cherub room), Sala da Pranzo or di Apollo e Orfeo (Dining room or of Apollo and Orpheus) and the bishop’s private rooms_ was painted in the years 1542 to 1543 by the Flemish painter (working in Venice) Lambert Sustris, with the advice of the aforementioned Giulio Romano. Only a portion of the impressive wall decorations – depicting mythological subjects, rural landscapes and ancient buildings in ruins – was rescued from the heavy tampering of the internal spaces set by Bishop Giustiniani in the 18th century.
During the Second World War, Villa dei Vescovi was used as a place of refuge for displaced people; after the war it hosted spiritual retreats and training activities. The Paduan curia retained the ownership of the property until 1962, when it was sold to Vittorio and Giuliana Olcese who undertook a first relevant restoration of the interior, even in the sixties.
In 2005 Villa dei Vescovi was donated to the FAI (Italian Environment Fund) by Maria Teresa Valoti Olcese.
New and decisive works of restoration were started in 2007 and concluded in June 2011 allowing the opening of the monument to the public. Nowadays the interior of the villa is fitted out with antique furniture and a series of panels illustrate to visitors the various construction stages and the recent recovery of the building. The surrounding gardens and loggias with portico of the villa offer a relaxing immersion in the beautiful nature of the Euganean Hills, while near the entrance, the rustic buildings house the ticket office, a bookshop and a wine cellar.