Things to See – Castello di San Vito

Castle Visconti di San Vito

SOMMA LOMBARDO

This ancient viscounts’ palace has a unique and large collection of ceramic basins for washing men’s beards and some beautiful frescoes and is a delightful little gem for tourists to enjoy.

The castle’s origin is very ancient and appears to date back to the 9th century. Development of the ancient Visconti residence into wider inhabitable areas began in 1448 when the brothers Francesco and Guido Visconti, in order to escape clashes with the Ambrosian republic, sought refuge in their old Somma property.

Today, the castle, brought under single ownership in the 1950s by the Marquis Don Alberto Visconti of San Vito, is set out as a large quadrilateral within which there are three castles developed around three wide courtyards graced by porticoes. Each has its own independent entrance. Between 1804 and 1807, Napoleon Bonaparte instructed that the Simplon road was to pass by the Eastern pit.

Access is gained to the northern square by a tower on the oldest side of the castle which defended its entrance. On the right and frontal walls, an elegant arched portico, supported by octagonal granite pillars whose capitals are engraved with coats of arms, gives access to the residence area in the oldest part of the Visconti castle of Somma Lombardo. Beneath the portico, impressive carriages from the era are on show. Inside the towers, narrow spiral staircases lead to the summit where an enchanting landscape can be admired from above: the low area of the city, the Ticino valley, the Novara plain and the circle of Alps, dominated by the ponderous Monte Rosa. On the opposite square, a wide esplanade gives access to the better preserved section of the castle.

Under the portico, the colossal upturned stump of what was the “thousand-year cypress” is the first relic that strikes the visitor. A large two-flight staircase leads to the main floor. The walls of this ascent are covered in frescoes dating back to the early years of the 17th century. Other frescoes, showing mythological scenes and religious representations, cover the walls. These pictorial works were created between 1590 and 1600 on the occasion of the marriage of a Visconti to a Taverna. The furnishings, which date back to the start of the 17th century, are preserved in the vast and elegant hall. At the centre, there is access to a consecrated chapel where a precious oil painting attributed to Cerano dominates the marble altar. The “Sala dei Piatti da Barba” (Room of the Shaving Dishes) is accessed from the left-hand side of the hall.

Continuing on, there is the room of the “Mastio” (Keep) where the bedroom, dominated by a colossal four-poster bed, is preserved. Other rooms follow, all with furniture and furnishings from the era and oil paintings of religious subjects or portraits of Visconti descendents. The collection of cinerary urns of the Golasecca civilisation, which numbers 155 clay pieces, is worthy of particular note. The rooms dedicated to important people who link their exploits with the Castle of Somma, such as Pope Gregory XIV and Count Gabrio Casati, only increase the historic and artistic beauty of the Castle. The heraldic coat of arms, as in all Visconti Houses, is characterised by the “big snake” biting an Ottoman warrior.

Not to be missed

The Castello owns one of the finest and most unique collections of shaving basins. The collection was started in the second half of the 18C by the Marquis Carlo Ermes, continued by the Marquis Roberto and rounded out by the Marquis Alberto in the beginning of the last century. The basins are usually circular with a crescent moon shape cut out on one side to enable the basin to fit under the chin. The client held the basin under his chin with both hands whilst the barber soaped, shaved and rinsed the beard.

Invented around the start of the 1600, for reasons of hygiene, they reached their maximum splendour in the following centuries. They are to be found in wood, alabaster, copper, pewter, silver, pottery, china from Ginori, Lodi, Faenza, Limoges, Strasburg as well as the West India Co both English and French. The collection comprises over 500 pieces.

Access:

from April to October every Saturday, Sunday and holiday from 10.00  to 11.30 am / from 2.30 to 6.30 pm

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