Villa Palagonia, known as the “villa of the monsters”, is an eighteenth century walled building located in Bagheria, Sicily.
“Mirrored in those crystals and in the same oneWriting at the entrance of the Villa
singolar magnificence contemplates
of fracture mortal the expressed image. “
History of Villa Palagonia
It was built starting from 1715 on behalf of Ferdinando Francesco I Gravina Cruyllas, prince of Palagonia, by the architect Tommaso Maria Napoli who, with the help of Agatino Daidone, took care, in 1737, of the low structures surrounding the villa and , in 1749, of interior and exterior decorations, commissioned by some successors of the prince. In particular the homonymous nephew Ferdinando Francesco II, known as Il negromante (1722-1788), is responsible for the realization of the extensive sequence of monstrous figures that surround the walls, for which the noble residence of leisure is famous. He was the son of Ignazio Sebastiano and Margherita Alliata.
Position of Villa Palagonia in Bagheria
In reality, the villa stretched close to the Corso Umberto in Bagheria, exactly at the height of the two pillars nowadays indistinctly incorporated into the urban structure of the city, which still mark the ancient triumphal entrance arch. From here a long avenue loomed out, adorned by that dense array of statues of monsters, sculpted in calcarenite, of which, at present, sixty-two survive, but which originally should have been about two hundred. In 1885, after the extinction of the princely family, the building was bought by private individuals, who still own it, and is partially open to the public.
Goethe and Villa Palagonia
On 9 April 1787 the villa was visited by the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who thus described the eccentricity of the exterior of the building in his memorial Journey to Italy:
“To convey all the elements of the madness of the Prince of Palagonia, here’s the list. Men: beggars of the two sexes, Spaniards and Spaniards, Moors, Turks, Humpbacks, Deformed of all kinds, Dwarves, Musicians, Pulcinella, Soldiers dressed in the old fashion, Gods and Goddesses, Ancient French costumes, Soldiers with pouches and men, beings mythological with comic additions (…) Beasts: isolated parts of the same, horses with human hands, human bodies with equine heads, deformed monkeys, numerous dragons and snakes, extremely varied legs and figures of all kinds, splits and exchanges of heads . Vases: all the varieties of monsters and cartocci that end in bellies of vases and pedestals. Imagine these figures galore, meaningless and without reason, put together without choice or discernment, imagine these clogs and pedestals and deformities aligned as far as the eye can see: and you will experience the painful feeling that oppresses those who find themselves passing under the rods from this madness. (…) But the absurdity of a mind without taste reveals itself to the maximum degree in the fact that the cornices of minor constructions are skewed, they hang to the right or to the left, so that the sense of the horizontal or of the vertical, that in short he makes us men and is the foundation of every eurythmy, he is tormented and tortured in us. And also these roofs are populated and decorated with hydra of small busts and of monkeys and other dabbenaggini orchestras. »
He was, however, so impressed that in La valpurga del faust night he drew the unmistakable description of a group of monsters present in the villa, almost ascending, in this way, as a pure example of demonic and chaotic romantic, all that confused world nightmares and grotesque expressions of the unconscious, so singular and conceptually icastic as to be worth, to date, the ad hoc category of palagonic.
Interiors of Villa Palagonia
The hendecasyllables that stand at the entrance of the hall certainly refer to the mirrors which, according to the ancient descriptions of the interiors of the Villa Palagonia, would have covered, with a particular play of overlaps, the entire vault of the ceiling and those of the most disparate shapes and provisions, which everywhere covered doors and windows, in an asphyxiated effect of extravagant deformations and kaleidoscopic multiplications of the reflection of passers-by. Not even the interior furnishings, therefore, escaped the prince’s visionary imagination. Goethe again wrote: “The feet of the chairs are unequally sawn, so that no one can take a seat and, in front of the entrance, the caretaker of the building invites visitors not to trust solid chairs because under the velvet cushions they hide thorns . “And a traveler of the time testifies to us:” The pendulum clock is placed inside the body of a statue: the eyes of the figure move with the pendulum, and rotate showing alternately the white and the black. The effect is horrible. The bedroom of the owner and his dressing room look like two compartments of Noah’s ark. There is no beast, however vile it may be, that does not appear there; toads, frogs, snakes, lizards and scorpions, all carved in marble of suitable color. There are also plenty of equally extravagant busts. In some you see on one side a beautiful profile, you turn on the other and a skeleton appears. Or see a nurse with a baby in her arms; the body is exactly that of an infant, but the face is that of a wrinkled ninety-year-old woman. “
The Architecture of Villa Palagonia
The central building of the villa, of the traditional type with a closed block, without inner courtyards, has a plan articulated in two square elements joined by a central curvilinear part. The ground floor is crossed at the center by a driveway, which widens in the center in an oval space without direct light. The first floor has four towers at the corners and in the center an oval vestibule, which repeats the space of the lower floor. This leads to the ballroom, richly frescoed and with a ceiling covered with mirrors. Beyond this is the noble chapel. On the opposite side there is a billiard room and on the sides private apartments, consisting of a series of rooms one behind the other. The noble floor is accessed from the ground floor by means of a double pincer stairway, with stone balustrades that accompany the articulated design. At the base is flanked by two stone seats, with backs in broken lines of Baroque taste. At the end of the façade, above the entablature, there is an attic with decorative elements, so high that it hides the roof slopes, while the corners of the building have a bastioned ground floor. The low buildings that surround the building are richly decorated with statues in calcarenite d’Aspra, which depict various characters united with fantastic animals and caricatured figures, called monsters. In the middle of the entrance avenue there is the so-called Arco del Padreterno; the large Arco dei Tre Portoni (in Tri Purtuna dialect) was demolished in the mid-20th century.