High in the Tuscan hills of northern Italy, this labyrinthine 365-room castle, containing the most spectacular interiors in the Moorish architectural style, has been sitting empty and neglected for over 20 years. It was initially constructed in 1605, however its history stretched much further back in time. Legend has it that the great Frankish ruler, Charlemagne, once stayed at a previous incarnation of the castle on the site in approximately 780 AD.
It was a Spanish noble, Ximenes of Aragon, who commissioned the castle, however it didn’t take on its Moorish identity until the 19th Century. This transformation can be attributed to Marquis Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes. Although he is a largely-forgotten historical figure, he was highly influential in cultural, social and political circles at the time when Florence was the capital city of Italy.
In fact, the renovations and alterations he made to the castle were a labor of love 40 years in the making. The Marquis planned, funded and realized what would become the single most important example of Moorish architecture in Italy.
Sadly, the Marquis’ death at the end of the 19th Century heralded the start of an elongated period of uncertainty for the castle. The Nazis looted it during the Second World War, stealing precious fountains and statues from its grounds, as well as stripping the interior of whatever they could.
Thereafter, it became a luxury hotel. Seeing as it was only accessible via a lengthy uphill trek, it allegedly became a haven for illicit gambling and prostitution. In addition to the patchy historical records of the castle, photographs of it from this period are almost non-existent.
The castle soldiered on as a hotel until 1990, when it finally closed its doors. Nearly a decade later, a British company bought the castle at auction, but it remained unoccupied and without refurbishment. Back then, the masterplan for the castle entailed putting in an 18-hole golf course in the grounds, as well as other sports facilities and a clubhouse.
Instead of the planned revitalization taking place, the company that had bought the castle publicly stated that it was in financial trouble, so the inevitable happened – the castle ended up in an even worse state of disrepair than it was previously, with vandals and the elements taking their toll. Broken windows, cut railings and stolen chandeliers abounded.
In 2013, a local non-profit organization was founded in a last-ditch attempt to find someone to save the decaying architectural gem. In spite of it having no ownership over the castle, the organization promotes it and organizes public viewings from time to time.
Things began to look up just a year later in 2014, when the Palmerston Hotels & Resorts chain bought the property, with plans to turn it into a luxurious sporting resort, replete with numerous sporting facilities, a spa and country club, but the project fell through by early 2016.
Various auctions to find the castle a buyer that would bring it back to its former glory have come and gone without a single bid for it being put in, but the Comitato FPXA, the non-profit organization that looks after it, hasn’t given up hope of a developer coming in and restoring it to its former glory.
In all honesty, it would be an incredibly sad thing if this jewel is left to deteriorate past the point of no return, because it would be a significant loss for both Italian and global cultural heritage.