intoHistory, geschiedenis beleven in authentieke logies
Imagine the Venetian countryside, with its noble vineyards and its small towns steeped in history. And then picture one of the most beautiful villas of the cinquecento encircled by fortified walls and bastions, with a park graced by majestic cedars hundreds of years old, and its cellars where award-winning grand cru wines mature in their huge wooden casks. Its owner, Baron Ciani Bassetti, a passionate oenologist, is waiting to welcome you into his palace, the Castello di Roncade – a genuine Renaissance work of art – where you will have the privilege of enjoying his and his family’s exceptional hospitality.
The Roncade domaine has been renowned for its vineyards since the Middle Ages © Castello di Roncade
An old plan of the château, the enceinte and the vineyard (provenance unknown)
The Castello di Roncade is more a stately villa than castle, for the Venetian authorities of the time forbade the construction of fortress castles on private property. Albeit imposing, the fortified walls surrounding the house are more symbolic than defensive. Completed in 1508, this small palace is particularly interesting as its style and proportions herald the trend towards Mannerism. Its architectural plans have been attributed either to the famous sculptor Tullio Lombardo, or to the architect Mauro Coducci who designed many of the palaces and churches in Venice including the famous clock tower in the Piazza San Marco. The building was a source of inspiration to one of Coducci’s pupils Andrea Palladio, who was to become a leading figure in Italian architecture.
The original clay bust of Girolamo Giustiniani
Donna Agnesina Badoer, who came from one of the most influential aristocratic families in Venice, ordered the house to be built at the start of the 16th century (cinquecento), but it was her second husband, Girolamo Giustinian who was to give his name to the estate.
Many important members of the Giustinian family – whose genealogy stretches back to the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century – made their mark in the history of the Most Serene Republic of Venice (La Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia), among them were two doges and a bishop – an appointed patriarch of Venice – who was canonised in the 17th century. The Castello di Roncade was one of their country estates, and famous for its prized vineyard.
Girolamo Giustinian’s coat of arms, on the chimney breast of the living room
You can still see Agnesina Badoer’s coat of arms – a red lion rampant against diagonal bands of red and white – or that of Girolamo Giustinian – a double-headed eagle – in many different parts of the property.
The villa was built on the foundations of a 10th century fortress constructed by the Emperor Otto II in the first years of the German Holy Roman Empire. The quattrocento (15th century) enceinte of brick, with its great square bastions, its moat, and turreted entrance, is typical of the late Italian Middle Ages.
The gate towers on the other side of the moat and bridge are typical of 15th-century military architecture
The villa itself has all the features and more of late Renaissance architecture. It is a restrained rectangular edifice embellished by a portico and two superimposed loggias surmounted by a pediment. Its spacious rooms symmetrically arranged around a central atrium (now glass-fronted), have immensely high ceilings, and a veritable forest of close-set beams. Many of the drawing rooms and bedrooms are decorated with friezes painted affresco with Renaissance motifs.
The extremely slender columns and arches of the two superimposed loggias are forerunners of the mannerist style of the 16th century
The large 24-hour clock, set into the entablature below the pediment, has just one hand.
Madonna with child, attributed to Pietro Lombardi
A beautifully proportioned chapel was built in 1517. The sculpted bas-reliefs that adorn the nave are copies of two masterpieces attributed to the sculptor Pietro Lombardo (Tulllio Lombardo’s father.) At the end of the 19th century, the originals were sold and are now in museums in Venice and London. Of further interest are two original clay busts, also of fine workmanship, of Agnesina Badoer and Girolamo Giustinian that are attributed to Jacopo Sansovino. Copies were made in bronze (both contemporaneously and more recently) and can be seen in Paris, Saint Petersburg, and Washington.
The unyielding gaze of Croatian mercenaries
Between the enceinte and the arcaded galleries that house the wine cellars, a beautiful Italian garden is laid out with lavender and box cut into geometric shapes, but most eye-catching of all are the magnificent Lebanese cedars (listed as historic monuments) and two huge magnolias. An army of statues – war gods, Croatian mercenaries, and eagles carved from lstrian stone – line the paths. Beyond the gardens are the vineyards, renowned for their wine since the Middle Ages.
The majestic Lebanese cedars of the park are listed historic monuments
Baron Vincenzo Ciani Bassetti in his wine cellar © Castello di Roncade
The last of the Giustiniani family died without heirs at the end of the 19th century, and the villa was bought by Baron Ciani Bassetti, whose descendants still live in the château. Armed with technical know-how based on the winemaking methods of Bordeaux, the family revived the production of wine. Today, the domaine produces the highest quality wine; of particular note, is the very special grand cru ‘Villa Giustinian’ – a careful blend of Pinot noir, Cabernet franc, Cabernet sauvignon and Malbec. Its white wines too are highly reputed especially the Pinot Grigio, the Chardonnay and the Prosecco.
The wine tuns (large wine casks) in which the domaine’s crus are maturing can be found in the cellars tucked away at the left of this portico © Castello di Roncade
In 1917 and 1918, the château found itself close to the front lines along the River Piave. It was requisitioned by the Italian chief of staff, who frequently used it as a command centre. Part of the domaine was set up as a hospital and many well-known people from aristocrats to writers, passed through its doors. In one of his earliest novels, Ernest Hemingway, stationed at Roncade with his regiment, vividly describes the endless movement of the convoys as they passed through the town on their way to and from the front.
It is difficult to accurately date this photograph showing the Kingdom of Italy’s flag still flying © Archivio storico Lorenzon Roncade
The domaine was badly damaged in 1945 by the Allies, who bombed Treviso thinking it was occupied by important German troops, but with loving care, the Ciani Bassetti family restored it. The baron once again opened its gates to offer shelter to refugees from the Pô plains when the river flooded in 1954.
On the villa’s south façade (restored after the Second World War), the frescoes were almost obliterated, but some of their original decorative elements – fine architectural lines, medallions and portraits – have been saved.
Hospitality is a word taken seriously by the Ciani Bassetti family! © Castello di Roncade
Some years ago, the Ciani Bassetti family opened up the château to take in paying guests and to host prestigious events. Marble bathrooms were installed in the villa’s bedrooms, which have kept their period furniture. Paintings, silk embroideries, and precious ornaments abound in these exceptional guest rooms. The bastions, converted into family apartments, are rather more subdued, but can accommodate – together – groups of up to thirty people. Self-catering is possible in the apartments that are equipped with kitchenettes. Otherwise, meals may be ordered in advance and enjoyed in the large, friendly basement kitchen of the villa. The castello offers the perfect setting for special occasions, weddings, wine tastings and other artisanal events.
The great entrance hall (or atrium), now glassed in © Castello di Roncade
The Ciani Bassetti family will personally welcome you into their beautiful home. You may even be honoured by an invitation to the private section of the château with its beautiful 17th-century decor of the finest craftsmanship.
Several weeks after my stay in Castello di Roncade, my head is still whirling with Renaissance memories and flavors of fine wines, golden light and works of art. This palace is magical. It kept its original atmosphere thanks to the especially hard work and dedication of the Ciani Bassetti family.
Some of the rooms are decorated with purely authentic old paintings and furniture (in the castle itself), the other ones (in the bastions) have been rearranged - they look a little bit less like antique shops...
The Patriarca Room, on the first floor of the castle, is one of the largest of the villa. It is as impressive as a living room, with its 6 meters high beamed ceiling, tall leaded windows, gorgeous glass chandelier, marble bathroom and Renaissance balcony.
The traditional Venetian floor of the room is particularly interesting, with its several coats of stucco (tailor’s chalk, cooked oil and ocher dyeing earth) and a finish layer of raw linseed oil + wax. The granito surface underneath is still to be seen here and there, under this rare semi-transparent coating, known as "Pastellino".
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