HISTORY OF THE CASTLE
Castello Dal Pozzo is nowadays a charming, 5-star Hotel in Oleggio Castello, on Italy’s Lake Maggiore, with a thousand-year history, datin from the 10th century when the remains of a Roman Castrum, a campsite of the Vth Legion, were unearthed.
The Roman Castrum became known as the Q.Legio, successively converted into Olegio, Olezo and then in the year 1186 into Oleggio Castello, in honour of the Castello built around the year 1000, by the Visconti family. It was from here that the Visconti, around the year 1200 made their move on Milan, over which they reigned supreme from the year 1277 until the death of Filippo Maria in 1447. His only daughter, Bianca, married Francesco Sforza who succeeded to his father-in-law. In the following centuries, the Castle was more or less abandoned, and allowed to fall to rack and ruin.
It was not until the second half of the 18th century that the descendants of the Visconti family reclaimed the castle, turning the ruins into a residential Palace. In the intervening centuries the Visconti had added to their title the suffix d'Aragona, granted by King Alfonso of Naples and Sicily, in 1442.
The last of the Visconti d'Aragona, Marquis Alberto Visconti d'Aragona, was involved in the nascent struggle for Italian independence from under the dominion of the Austrian Empire, known as the "moti carbonari". In 1830 he was condemned to death and stripped of all his possessions. They passed to his sister Virginia, wife of Bonifazio Dal Pozzo d’Annone, originally from Rovereto, later call Alessandria, in honour of Rolando Bandinelli, who became Pope Alessandro III in 1167.
His son Claudio (1839-1885) connoisseur and lover of art and architecture, and heavily influenced by the Gothic Revival movement originating under Augustus Pugin in England, redesigned and rebuilt the Palace with the help of the architect Richard Popplewell Pullan, laying out a spacious Park at the same time, thus transforming the ancient walls into a grandiose Gothic Revival Victorian castle, said to be "one of the purest reinterpretations of neo-gothic Tudor existing in Italy.
Across the road lies the modern day Palazzo Visconti, where Alberto Visconti d’Aragona lived out his remaining years after having been pardoned for his participation in the “moti carbonari” He died in 1895 and is buried, together with his wife, Lady Luigia, marchioness of Monticelli Obizzi, in the cemetery in Oleggio Castello.
During successive World Wars the Palazzo was converted into flats for local inhabitants. When Oleggio Castello became an independent Parish, separating from Paruzzaro, the Palazzo temporarily became the local elementary school. In more recent years the building was largely abandoned and fell into disuse. However, it has now been completely rebuilt and has opened as a luxury boutique Hotel, destined to put Oleggio Castello on the international tourist map.
Thus for more than 6 generations, the entire property has belonged to the Dal Pozzo family, and is still the principal family seat.
A CORNER OF ENGLAND
British art experts have defined the architecture of the Castle as a perfect expression of neo-gothic Revival, popular during the Victorian era.
The Marquis Claudio Dal Pozzo d'Annone was enamoured of the sixteenth-century Tudor Gothic style. The castle reflects this artistic passion. The overall appearance is compact, enhanced by its grandiose setting in almost 50 acres of parkland with a wide variety of trees, some of great botanical interest.
This typically British architectural style is accentuated by its main architectural features, including the entrance porch, the chapel, a massive square tower to the east and the small octagonal tower on the southwest corner.
The architecture blends with the interior decor, typical of the period: the stained glass windows of the apse of the chapel, the wrought iron gates copied from Scottish Houses, embedded high-reliefs on the exterior walls of the building, coats-of-arms and sculptures from various sources. Every detail has been carefully studied and lovingly executed.
The stencils on the walls, the decorative tiles and hand painted furniture all underscore the influence and cultural climate of the artistic movement promoted by Augustus Pugin and then William Burgess, an international design movement that originated in Great Britain and dominated the period of the mid 1800. Augustus Pugin was inspired by the writings of John Ruskin (1819-1900).
The movement influenced architecture, interior design and the decorative arts. Although the style uses simple shapes heavily influenced by medieval decoration, it is often perceived as being at the forefront of modern design.
THE GHOST OF THE CASTLE
In the year 1467, the hostilities between the Duchies of Milan and Savoia had forced Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan to move out along the River Sesia. This marked the boundaries between the two States and it was here that he had decided to take a stand against the troops of Amadeo IX of Savoia. The Duke sent a young Captain, Messer Matteo de Grandis, to coordinate the troop movements in the area around the Lake.
Messer Matteo was billeted during his mission in the fortress at Oleggio Castello, which belonged to Lord Alberto Visconti, a distant cousin of the Duke's mother, Bianca Maria. On his arrival, Messer Matteo was received with great ceremony by Lord Alberto, his wife Beatrice and his daughter Barbara. Matteo immediately fell under the spell of the beautiful young girl, a singular mixture of beauty and virtuosity, combined with a generous heart. However, her hand had already been promised in marriage to a neighbour’s son, in order to cement an important political alliance.
In the days that followed messer Matteo was able to meet madonna Barbara several times. His thoughts, even when busy preparing for war, were always about her. Madonna Barbara was also attracted to the young captain Matteo, for although he was a fighting man, he had shown that he possessed an out of the ordinary degree of sensibility.
There was no lack of opportunity for Barbara and Matteo to be together both in the Castle Rooms and walking through the Castle grounds down to the Lake. Thus burgeoning love enveloped the young pair, binding their souls for all eternity. As the day of messer Matteo's departure drew closer, the two lovers decided to seal this tender sentiment before God.
They met in the Chapel, and oblivious of the world around them, of their duty and of their families, they swore eternal fidelity, sealing their love before God with a kiss. Although they wished that these idyllic days could last forever, the troops were ready to leave for Ghemme, where Duke Galeazzo Maria had pitched his camp. Thus Matteo had to leave the Castle and his beloved Barbara. The promises of love exchanged turned out to be meaningless.
The day after the Captain's departure madonna Barbara, unable to resist being separated from messer Matteo, tried to leave the Castle to be with her lover. However, her father, suspecting something was afoot, had had her watched by his retainers, and stopped her from fleeing. During the ensuing scuffle, madonna Barbara confessed to her father, Lord Alberto, her undying love for messer Matteo. He reminded her that she had already been promised in marriage to someone else, and in the face of her refusal to obey him, he commanded her to forget messer Matteo and had her locked in the Castle Tower.
Lord Alberto immediately wrote to the Duke, complaining as to how messer Matteo had taken advantage of his hospitality and had seduced his daughter, who was already promised to another man, and he demanded retribution.
Galeazzo Maria Sforza, was justifiably annoyed by Visconti's letter and on the advice of his secretary, Cicco Simonetta, decided to send messer Matteo to escort his brother Tristano and the painter Zanetto Bugatto to the Court of France, where they were to make the acquaintance of Bona di Savoia, his future bride.
Matteo was ordered to remain in France at the court of Louis XI, until specifically recalled. Madonna Barbara, not informed of messer Matteo's enforced departure, waited in vain for her lover's return. The days turned into weeks and then months, and the young damsel, refusing to come out of her room and eat, slowly wasted away.
Deprived of Matteo, she was unable to find any kind of solace, refusing to see even her mother. Doctors and family were impotent in the face of her unremitting love for the absent young captain of the guard and she finally died of despair, her heart broken. Sometimes during the night it is possible to hear sighs and laments coming from the Tower.
Some say that they have seen a shadow looking out from the window, as though someone was watching the Lake: popular belief maintains that it is the ghost of the beautiful Barbara, which stills wanders restlessly around the Castle Tower searching for her lost love.