On the occasion of the 20th annual Giornate di Primavera, held on the weekend of 24 and 25 March 2012 and organized by the Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI), when stately homes, gardens, and other historic sites not normally open to the public are, we had the chance to visit the Castello di Frascarolo, in Induno Olona, near Varese.
For once, the “No admittance” sign is nowhere to be seen. That’s because I cropped the picture. The castle is private property, to this day, the home of the Marchesi Medici di Marignano.
While paid-up members of the FAI, an organization based on the British National Trust, were allowed to see the main courtyard and some of the interiors, the rest of us were limited to the outside. Here we see the FAI people waiting to go in, while we’re going to walk down to see that tower.
Before we reach the tower, we pass by the main entrance to the castle, and then the farm buildings, or the cascina, to use the Italian word. The cascina is a rural building typical of the Po Valley, and thus Lombardy and of some areas of Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna.
The farm courtyard, with harnesses for oxen and similar. The Medici di Marignano family still farms in the area.
Yes, the Medici crest … While the Medici di Marignano family were from Milan, and were not related to the famous Florence Medici, the latter did concede the use of the “six balls” from their own family crest in recognition for services rendered. In the case of Gian Giacomo (1498-1555), son of the first owner, these were military, since he was a famous mercenary (but more on that later). When it came to his older brother, Giovanni Angelo, these services were religious and political, or political and religious: he became cardinal in 1549, and then pope, under the name of Pius IV, ten years later (but more on that later, also.)
Back to the present-day …. skirting the perimeter …
Round the next corner …
On the left, the Italian gardens
The swimming pool, with steps down from the house. Oh no, this bit is strictly private. Better get out of here …
Retrace our steps, past the cascina, past the main entrance, past the chapel, heading towards the tower at the other end of the facade.
Which is this one … with the wood-pile at its base.
Looking down towards Induno Olona. The castle, originally a fortified place, is first documented in 1160, held a strategic position between what we would now call Switzerland, with Lake Lugano forming the frontier, and what we would now call Italy, and Varese, an outpost for Milan, some 45 kilometers away.
And what happened in 1160? well, the Lombard comunes, under the Duke of Milan, were fighting on the pope’s side against the Swiss, who supported the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I, also known as Barbarossa, now on his second Italian campaign. Archbishop Uberto da Pirovano, with some one hundred cavalry, routed the Emperor’s men, taking control of the villages of Arcisate and Induno, and setting up a fortified headquarters at Frascarolo.
By the end of the 15th century, the castle, or what there was of it, belonged to the Sforza family, the Dukes of Milan, until 1535. In 1543, the Medici di Marignano family bought the place, converting it into a handsome home. Among the events recorded to have taken place here are the wedding of Gian Giacomo Medici, known as the “Medeghino”, condottiero at the services of Emperor Charles V.
This took place in 1545. Thanks to the intervention of pope Paul III, as well as that of his own brother, Gian Angelo, Gian Giacomo married Marzia Orsini, the widow of Livio Attilio di Alviano, the lord of Pordenone. She herself was the daughter of Ludovico Orsini, the count of Pitigliano.
Despite being a mercenary, with a shady past as a pirate on Lake Como, Gian Giacomo is buried in the Duomo in Milan. His monumental grave can be seen in the right transept. Said to owe some of its design to Michelangelo, the marble grave — with its five bronze figures — was the work of Leone Leoni in 1563, and is generally considered to be his masterpiece.
The third tower.
If you want to find out more about the past inhabitants of the Castello di Frascarolo, check out Sergio Redaelli’s book Pio IV, un pirata a San Pietro. Santi e tagliagole nell’Italia del 1500. Pius was the pope (25 December 1559-9 December 1565) also known as Giovanni Angelo Medici, whose father, Bernardino had bought the castle in 1543.
We chose not to sign up to the FAI to visit the castle interiors, for a number of reasons, not that we do do not agree that the FAI is “a good thing”. We do realise it’s a bit rough on you. So, here’s a piece by Paola Viotto, published on the RMF-online site. She did visit and includes some images. Not that many because, as we said, this is a private home, and the family like to keep it that way.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the castello di Frascarolo in Induno Olona, near Varese, north of Milan, has nothing to do with the castello di Frascarolo, near Pavia, which is west of Milan. But, just in case you are curious, here’s something on that one!