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Path of the villas

(Ca’ Erizzo - Villa Bragadin-Priuli-Soranzo-Petrobelli - Villa Tondello e Villa Capodaglio - Villa Grimani – Villa Zaborra -il Catajo - la Mincana)
The whole of the Venetian villas today constitutes one of the tourist image of the region, recalling the sweet life of the holiday of the Venetian aristocracy in the ‘700, also told in the pages of Carlo Goldoni, but in reality the villa is the symbol of the Venetian expansion in the mainland, begun already in the 15th  century. With the Ottoman advance and the discovery of America, in fact, Venice lost the importance that came from being the mistress of the Mediterranean. The Turks took away from her the islands that until then had been the dispensation of the city and the new trade routes, inaugurated by Columbus, took away much of its wealth. Venice from “Stato da Mar” (sea states) had to make himself “de téra” (earth state) to find the resources and move on. And Venice expanded, expropriating and acquiring land, transforming them, also thanks to an intelligent water government, and imposing the Venetian pax in those land for centuries upset by wars between the lords, like those between Carraresi and Scaligeri. Venice built garrisons, companies, houses. The villas were the emblem of the reorganization of the Venetian power, the outpost of the transformation of the territory. While throughout the Middle Ages the centers of power were monasteries and castles, with the arrival of the Serenissima became the villas. The first are partly remodeling of ancient fortresses and forts, but then over time the villa will also consolidate its own features fulfilling a double task: the centre of work organization in the large countryside and place of representation and leisure, suitable for the lineage of the owner. Already at the end of the 16th century there were countless villas that stood in the Venetian countryside; the rich families of the Venetian nobility, competing among themselves, had commissioned the brilliant architects of that time to build their summer residences. Temporarily leaving the palaces of Venice, the patrician families moved to beautiful and harmonious buildings enlivened by imaginative cycles of frescoes and surrounded by symmetrical gardens, vast meadows and orchards. Also Due Carrare, and its territory, preserve the important testimonies of this season, signs that the municipally retains its importance even after the period of the Da Carrara.

Road map

Many of the villas indicated by the route are private and therefore not open to the public, if not externally; however, it’s only through these that it is possible to know the story of Due Carrare in those centuries enclosed between the end of the Lordship of Carrara, at the begging of the 15th century, and the 18th century. An era dominated by the presence of the families of the Venetian aristocracy and ended only with the end of the Serenissima Republic in 1797. Almost four centuries of history that we will retrace starting from Ca’ Erizzo, just outside the town, to take the street of the same name and head towards the SP 17 that will lead us to the centre of the country. After the Abbey of Santo Stefano keep right, always on the SP17 until you reach the large roundabout and turn immediately on via Roma where, right at the intersection with the SP9, stands Villa Bragadin – Priuli – Soranzo – Petrobelli: once the seat of the Castle of Carrara, a defensive structure, residential and agricultural that extended up to the nearby Villas Capodoglio and Priuli. To reach them, from Villa Bragadin – Priuli – Soranzo – Petrobelli, turn right to stay on via Roma and then take the SP9 at the nearby intersection. Villa Capodaglio will be found just after walking a few meters and always near Villa Tondello. The next destination is Pontemanco, which we will meet again along the SP9 in the same direction. Entering from via Pontemanco we will reach the heart of the small medieval village dominated by old mills and Villa Grimani. Along via Pontemanco we will exit from the other side of the country and reach the roundabout, which intersects the SP9, we will proceed straight on the same way until we intersect via Figaroli. We will take this way for quite a while, until we cross the roundabout from which the road changes the name in Via San Pelagio. Continuing straight on this road, and past the bridge above the A13 motorway, on the left we will cross Villa Zaborra, also called Castello di San Pelagio, site of the Museum of Flight. Continuing on the same road we will arrive to Mezzavia, where we will cross the SS16 and enter the bridge that will lead us on the left bank of the canal Battaglia. Overtaking the bridge, we will turn immediately to the left and, remaining on the embankment, we will reach the Catajo. We will continue our way through the bridge, which is in front of the large door of Villa Obizzi, to turn left, on the SS16 and, after a few hundred meters, turn right on via Mincana (SP9) where, after a few meters, we will cross the indications for Villa La Mincana. The residence which was of the Dolfin, in fact, preserves a beautiful tree-lined avenue that leads from the provincial road to the entrance door of the stately residence and its relevance. To return to the centre of Due Carrare it will be sufficient to take the SP9 and, once reached the large roundabout that marks the beginning of the city center, turn right to turn the SP17. From here on, we will retrace the provincial road, going back to the Abbey of Santo Stefano, to Ca’ Erizzo from which we started.

Site sheets of interest touched by the route: 

Ca’ Erizzo, between the Biancolino and Vigenzone canal
Ca’ Erizzo rises between the Biancolino and Vigenzone canal. Founded as the center of work organization in the countryside, after more than five centuries it retains the elements of its distant past. Around the structure of the villa, from which stands a pretty lodge, from which you can enjoy the splendid panorama that includes the hills and mountains in the distance, there is a characteristic Italian garden with fruit trees, flowers and fragrant herbs.

Villa Bragadin-Priuli-Soranzo-Petrobelli, sumptuous signature of Scamozzi
Although characterized by an unadorned appearance and partly altered by 18th century interventions, the villa was recently attributed to Vincenzo Scamozzi’s project. To recall here the figure of the great architect, who with Palladio shared the scene of the European architecture of the 16th century, was precisely the family commissioner: the Priuli, who commissioned the same Scamozzi of the realization of the two Villas Priuli in Treville, of Treviso, and San Germano of the Berici, Vicenza, and the homonymous palace in Padua.

Villa Capodaglio and Villa Tondello, from a castle to an aristocratic residence
The two aristocratic residences share the same history, starting from the origins. Both lay their walls on a pre-existing nucleus, in which it is not difficult to recognize some elements that were of the ancient castle of Da Carrara. In fact, some powerful pillars embedded inside the perimeter walls of Villa Capodaglio, the laces of an ancient tower to Villa Tondello and the presence of loopholes, in the walls of both, represent probably what remains of the ancient manor which represented the Golden Age of Due Carrare. The history of the territory in fact is indissolubly linked to the epic of the family that since 1318 was the leader of the city of Padua. The end of the family in the early 15th  century coincided with the expansion of Venice to the mainland, perpetually fighting with the Da Carrara for the control of the territory. A new season that gave rise to a new organization of the territory both in terms of rearrangement of the countryside and the functionality of the dwellings. After the end of the Lordship of Padua their goods were sold, by the will of the Serenissima, to the enchantment of the mayor and captain of Padua to the Venetian nobleman Marino Bragadin, who began the complete renovation of the castle, certainly not for ‘damnatio memoriae’ of the House of Padua, which had in its properties until then, but to respond to the new needs of the aristocracy of Venice, that is the exploitation of countryside. Those were the years when the Venetian nobles sought in the land that wealth that the Turks had begun to steal from them in the sea. A wealth that came, precisely, from the reorganization of the extensive larges estates and that had in the villas the center of control. Both, Villa Capodoglio and Villa Tondello correspond perfectly to the typology of the Sunday court, with the residence well in view, also to fulfill the purposes of representation that the Venetian aristocracy never ceased to flaunt, surrounded by those fundamental pertinences to the rustic activity: bulding services, stables, barns, small houses for the accommodation of the farmers (at Villa Capodoglio there is still the wood -  burning oven that served the small community) vegetable garden , that is the agricultural space for fruit trees and vines, more valuable, for the crops destined to the manor house. The two villas passed during the 17th century from Bragadin to Sanudo and continued to remain vital throughout the 18th century, when they began to be used also as summer residences for the resort and the panoramic viewpoint. To these two centuries date the last interventions made to the noble structures such as the raising to three floors of part of Villa Capodaglio and the interventions to the mezzanine of Villa Tondello, with the opening of new Large windows and the realization of the refined portal that connects the noble staircase with the representation room. With the 19th century began, instead, the progressive decay of the dwellings and the appliances, the premises began to be no longer used for their historical function, so much so that in the ‘900 some rooms of Villa Tondello came, even used as a stable. Today Villa Capodaglio is an modern farm and in the spaces that were the castle Carrarase can be tasted the precious wines that constitute the pride of the new estate. Here, in fact, as in the Villa Tondello, ancient and modern structures continue to let themselves be read, testifying that history is nothing more than the sedimentation of the epochs and the work of man.

Villa Grimani in Pontemanco, center of a proto-industrial village
Throughout the Middle Ages the small village of Pontemanco was a vital centre developed around the productive activities, which we could define as proto-industrial, related to the energy obtained from a water jump of just three meters of the Biancolino canal. The driving force of water, in fact, allowed the installation of mills for the grinding of the canal bed itself allowed an agile river way for transport. These prerogatives remained important also in the following season, characterized by the progressive presence of the Venetian aristocracy in the countryside. And towards the end of the 18th century it was the Grimani Family who obtained the granting of exploitation of the water of the small canal, with the whole chain connected. And in this period that came to settle the town planning system of the small village and Grimani were protagonists, contributing to the realization of the network of structural and service of economic activity, as the completion of the houses of the workers, the manors, the persons responsible for the care of horses, the boatmen and expanding the main house of the village, which had been the Pasqualingo, in the Villa Grimani. The residence maintained the classic forms of the Venetian manor house: on two floors, with plan, tripartite hall and four rooms on the sides. A rustic villa, in the countryside, but in the trifora balcony, which still characterizes the façade, retains a close link with the Grand Canal. The Villa Grimani was also the home of the famous composer and music critic Carlo De Pirro from Padua.

Villa Zaborra, seat of the Flight Museum
The complex of Villa Zaborra certainly has medieval origins, as attested by the large tower that still stands above the center of the building, and constituted one of the centers of the defensive system prepared by the Da Carrara family, Lords of Padua, in the thirties of the 14th century. The site, in the following centuries, underwent several alterations but came to the present definition when the property passed to the Counts Zaborra, with the extension, at the beginning of the XVIII century, of the building and the modernization of the master wing, to adapt it to residence, and making the service buildings for agricultural use. The Villa, in fact, consists of two lateral wings. The left wing is the service building built in 1795 by Paolo Zaborra, the right wing, instead, older, from 1680 until 1960, was the real home of the Counts Zaborra and the custodians. On the façade you can read two marble plates recalling the famous “Flight over Wien”, made by Gabriele D’Annunzio and the pilots of 87° squadron “Serenissima” on August 9, 1918. The villa is also embellished by a sumptuous garden with the vegetable garden, the hillock with the ice-house, the fish pond and the park with the labyrinths. Since 1970 a part of the villa has been earmarked to house the finds that constitute the Flight Museum, inaugurated in 1980, which traces the entire history of human flight pivoting on the ‘undertaking dannunziana’: this flight is dedicated to the main part of the museum with the rooms inhabited by the poet in 1917-1919.

The Catajo of Battaglia Terme, sumptuous self-celebratory royal  palace of the Obizzi
The Catajo was built between 1570 and 1573 by the will of Pio Enea I of Obizzi, on a project by Andrea Da Valle. It was immediately characterized by the imposing appearance of a fortress, although later it was enlarged and transformed, between the 17th and 18th century, into the magnificent ducal palace of the Este, and then passed to the Habsburgs. The origin of the name is uncertain, although it is very likely that this will be linked to the excavation of the Battaglia canal at the beginning of the 13th century, whose flow passes right in front of the villa. With “tajo” (cut), in fact, was indicated the excavation of a canal and the place name, probably, passed from the place to what later became the most representative element: the majestic building of the Obizzi. What is certain, is that, if in most of the examples of the territory the villa mainly fulfils the task of center of work organization in the countryside, in the case of the Catajo, instead, the representation function is predominant. The Obizzi, after all, did not belong to the landed aristocracy, they were a family of captains of fortune. The Catajo was designed as a great setting of the family, able to amaze and entertain guests from all over Europe with parties, dances and theatrical performances. For this purpose, a small theatre with sixteen stages was built, which was in fact one of the first covered structures, dedicated to Veneto shows. The lineage of the family, after all, is recounted in the cycle of frescoes that decorate six halls of the residence (the whole building consists of 350 rooms) made by Giambattista Zelotti, a pupil of Paolo Veronese. In forty frames the saga of the family is told in pictures with marriages, wars and heroic deeds, giving life to one of the first cycles of self-celebratory frescoes of Northern Italy and among the most important ones of the Renaissance in the villa. Today the reopening of the park, also contribute to the beauty of the Catajo. Originally dedicated only to fruit trees, in the 1600 it was modified by Pio Enea II with the introduction of pots of citrus along the main avenues, a wood of elms, a labyrinth in boxwood and a rectangular fish farm. The current setting of the park, however, dates back to the period between ‘700 and ‘800, when Thomas, the last exponent of the Obizzi, expert in botany, removed the hedges in boxwood to replace them with a botanical garden and planted the magnolias, recently introduced into Europe.

La Mincana: from Bragadin to Dolfin to Dal Martello
The testimony of the settlement of a Venetian family in La Mincana dates back to 1528, when a certain Marietta, daughter of Pietro Bragadin and spouse of F. Bondumier, is the owner, at the district of Carrara S. Giorgio, of : “ a house with courtyard, vegetables garden and other comforts to settle when you go to the villa”. The actual appearance of the complex of building that make up the villa, however, must be traced back the begging of the ‘700 when the Dolfin, the branch of Pantalon, became its new owners. The family was among the most powerful in Venice of the time: men of faith and Venetian diplomacy, who spared no expense. Dionisio Dolfin, Patriarch of Aquileia, had a chapel built in 1721 and in the same years his brother, the ambassador to Poland and to Wien, Daniel III, redone the service building, the guesthouse, the stables and the garden. Daniel’s son, Andrea, ambassador to France, also contributed to make La Mincana a real place of delight, entrusting the architect Giannantonio Selva to execute an English garden in the area of the ‘brolo’ vegetable garden, one of the first of its kind in Italy. The ambassador frequented for a short time the villa: left for the court of Louis XVI in 1780, were few opportunities to come there. Who instead remained here for long periods, was the wife, Giustina Gradenigo, not loved by her husband and also, deprive of his sons (Bianca and Zanetto resided at the court in France with the father), she took out her frustration here. Far away from Venice, in that fashionable garden “romantic”, which at the rigor of geometries of the Italian gardens replaced streams, caves, bushes, labyrinths, justice, could completely get lost, fantasize, find a reason for all that pain. Not for too long. Some sources, in fact, inform that also that green shelter was taken away from it by a twister in 1789, while, at the same time, the hurricane of  French Revolution wiped out her husband’s diplomatic career, along with the ancient regime that King Louis’s court represented. With the death of the children, in circumstances never clarified, and of the same Andrea Dolfin, happened not a decade later, the dynasty of the branch of the Pantalon ended and for La Mincana opened a century of stripping and progressive degradation, until the beginning of the ‘900 when the villa was purchased by the Dal Martello family.