Rocchetta Mattei- Welcome To A Dream

“Benvenuti in un sogno”-“Welcome to a dream”. The tagline for Rocchetta Mattei could not be more perfect. A visit to Rocchetta Mattei is exactly that-entering a dream. It was the dream of Conte Cesare Mattei in 1850 when he purchased the property and then for the next thirty years as he built the stunning castle-Rocchetta Mattei.

Rocchetta Mattei is not a well known tourist destination nor is it well known to many of my Italian friends. After my visit I wanted to rent a bus and put everyone I know on it and drive to Rocchetta Mattei. The castle, is so unique to Italy, so exceptional in design and creativity I want to share it with everyone.

Cesare Mattei was an exceptional man. Not only did he visualize this stunning castle, and then oversee its construction for 30 years he also developed his own business in Electromeopathic medicines. While constructing Rocchetta Mattei the then Conte Cesare Mattei also built his medical business to 107 distribution centers around the world. Mattei was however, a bit eccentric which eventually led to extreme paranoia and fear.

In 1850 Mattei purchased property in Riola. This property overlooked Riola, and the surrounding valley and was home to the ruins of a medieval castle (Fortress Savignono). From the ruins of the medieval castle Mattei built a castle like no other in Italy. Rocchetta Mattei is a perfect mix of Moorish, Medieval, Liberty, Art Nouveau and Modern Italian architecture. Each room, courtyard, entrance, and staircase is unique but completely cohesive. At no point does space look awkward but quite the opposite, as if each style was meant to flow into the other.

Rocchetta Mattei sneaks up on its visitors, winding through the hills, searching and searching for this magnificent castle is mystifying, signs lead you to a castle you expect to see around each corner and yet it is not there. Then there it is, eight gold domes shining in the morning sun, striped stone work, arched windows encircling towers, and elaborate stone and brick work, all rising from the trees below. It looks as though the landscape released from its core this stunning piece of architecture, so different than anything in its vicinity and yet so perfect in its space. In a first glance it is obvious this is an absolute architectural masterpiece.

I had become slightly obsessed with visiting Rocchetta Mattei after I saw a picture of the chapel on Instagram. I was literally giddy as we approached the entrance, I couldn’t wait to discover what was behind the gorgeous facade. Yet as much as I anticipated how incredible it would be I can see I did not dream grand enough for what was behind the front entrance gate. There lie the wonder that is Rocchetta Mattei. Complete with elaborate brick work of the like I have never seen before-griffins, and roman busts lining the entranceway leading up stairs to the grand Moorish front doors, their presence a momentary distraction from the perfection which lay behind. Perhaps it seems as though I am exaggerating or being overly generous with my description however, the faces of those with me and around us revealed a shared state of awe.

Instead of using words to describe Rocchetta Mattei I will let the photos do the work for me. I think they do a better job of explaining the space than I ever could.

Cortile Centrale/Central Courtyard

Cappella or Chapel of Rocchetta Mattei
Cortile dei Leone/Courtyard of Lions. At one time the capitols were painted with blues and yellows to highlight the design, as was the fountain.
Cortile dei Leone was inspired by a courtyard in the Alhambra in Granada.
Sala Rossa/Red Room The ceiling is decoupaged from old newspapers.
Sala della Pace/Room of Peace Through the windows lie the rivers, and landscape Mattei loved.
Sala della Pace
Tomba di Cesare Mattei-10 years after his death his heir had Mattei’s body moved to the tomb Mattei had requested before his death. He now lies on the upper level of the Chapel.

As of 2022 there are 13 rooms and courtyards available to the public for tours. Eventually this will expand as the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio in Bologna continues the work of reconstruction. Check the hours on their website as they vary during the year. The tours are only in Italian for the moment, but given that a few people in our group do not speak Italian and loved the tour as much as those who did I wouldn’t let the language barrier deter you-the architecture speaks for itself. The love, care and consideration put into Rocchetta Mattei does not need words-they are felt throughout the property. When visiting it is easy to imagine Mattei walking through the castle with the full court he employed even including a buffoon!

Rocchetta Mattei is about an hour and a half from Lucca or Florence, and an hour from Bologna. If you are leaving from Lucca I would highly recommend taking the road from Pistoia to SS64 and following that route. It is more scenic, more convenient and much less stressful than the autostrada.

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