Syndication Feature Article :

Villa Palagonia Sicily

Article Length: 528 words Photographer: Paul Williams Author: Paul Williams  

Villa Palagonia | Magazine Article Content Syndication - Images by Paul Williams
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FEATURE SERIES: Quintessential Europe "Vila Palagonia, Sicily"

The avoid the stifling summer heat of Palermo it became fashionable, in the 18th century, for the Sicilian aristocracy to spend the summer in the coastal town of Bagheria. This was an age of excess and the Villas that the aristocracy built had to outshine their neighbors. In 1705 Francesco Gravina, prince of Palagonia and Knight of the Golden Fleece, commissioned Dominican Monk and architect, Tommaso Maria Napoli, to build him a Villa. The resulting Baroque Villa is a fine example of the style complete with a lavish mirrored ball room and sumptuous decorations.

When Francesco's grandson, the hunchback Ferdinando Gravina Alliata, inherited the Villa things changed dramatically. It is fair to say that Ferdinando was eccentric in the extreme and his mind had probably been warped by the stigma of his hunchback. He hung mirrors that distorted the reflections of his visitors and hid spikes under velvet cushions. He placed grotesque statues at the gates of the villa which led to it being known as the "Villa of Monsters".

Grotesques were part of the theatrical style of the Baroque as can be seen in the paintings of Gaetano Gandolfi, but Ferdinando took the practice to a malicious level. His wife had many lovers so in revenge Ferdinando commissioned statues of them to be made. The result were cruel grotesque caricatures sculpted in rough tuff volcanic stone that he arranged along the garden wall of the Villa for all to see. As the main rooms of the Villa are on the first floor this meant that the statues were at eye level whenever Ferdinando and his wife glanced out of the window.

History does not record the effect of the statues had on Fernando's wife or her lovers but it does record the outrage of Goethe who visited Bagheria as part of The Grand Tour. He described hideous depictions of hunchbacks, dwarfs, Turks, men and women with animal bodies or double headed monsters. Goethe described 200 statues, of which 60 remain today, and his indignation made the Villa a "must see" for aristocrats and the wealthy from all over Europe who took The Grand Tour of Italy and Sicily.

On either side of the first floor entrance into the Villa is the bas relief of a man screaming, his open mouth forms a black cavern that goes back into the wall. It is not recorded if this is a portrait of Fernando and apart from his grotesque statues the Villa has no other evidence of the eccentric decor that incensed Goethe. The beautiful mirrored ballroom, though a little faded, hints of a time when the great and good of Sicilian aristocracy used to dance the night away reflecting in their own glory. Villa Palagonia gives a remarkable insight into to the excesses of the Sicilian aristocratic class that eventually spent its way into debt and out of existence.

Open all year: Apr 1 to October 31 Mon-Sun 9:00 to 13:00 and 16:00 to 19:00
November 1 to March 31 Mon - Sun 9:00 to 13:00 and 15:30 to 17:30

Villa Palagonia
Piazza Garibaldi 3
I-90011 Bagheria


© Paul Williams 2011. All Rights reserved. Unauthorised copying prohibited. Please contact us for usage license.

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