Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fellini's Dolce Vita Castle

Giustiniani-Odescalchi castle, Bassano Romano 

entrance flanked with Roman busts

Fellini's La Dolce Vita is  one of the best known and loved films in the history of Italian cinema.
 We all recognize the iconic image of Anita Ekberg cooling off in the Fountain of Trevi,but how  many know that large sections of the film were shot in the Giustiniani-Odescalchi castle  of Bassano Romano, an unassuming  hamlet which until 1964 was known as Bassano di Sutri. 

church  adjacent to castle 
The Giustiniani family were originally from  Genoa and their wealth came from commerce, especially the importation of  alum from the Greek  island of Chios, at a time when alum was worth more than its weight in gold. 


  At the apex of his career  (around 1600-1610) Vincenzo Giustiniani invested this wealth in art and property.

St. Jerome by Caravaggio, once in the Giustiniani collection
 The family had palazzi and castles  in several towns besides  Bassano and  it seems that the vast art collection included more than a dozen works by Caravaggio. 

grotesques  or flower fairies? 
To decorate the Bassano castle numerous artists were employed    including  Bernardo Castello from Genoa, Tempesta and Squarzina who painted The Four Seasons fresco cycle.

Bassano became the summer hideaway where Giustiniani and later  the Odescalchi nobles escaped the heat and hassle  of Rome.

Vincenzo enjoyed  hunting in the extensive woods and  gardens  which are still connected to the castle by a bridge-like  passageway. 

Myth of Tetone, Galleria Albani  1609
In modern times, the  Giustiniani-Oldescalchi  castle has always been a mysterious place, rarely open to the public, and most people have seen the interiors  only in the  films shot there.

  It has eluded  me for  over  40 years, but finally one hot weekend in July the property was opened for guided tours during  the annual town festival. 

Dottoressa Rita Fabretti, our expert guide
Led by an enthusiastic expert who has studied the Giustiniani diaries, our  small group  was led up the staircase and  through the saloni of the piano nobile where the ceilings of every room  are embellished  with frescoes. 

interior courtyard,  with passageway leading to the gardens
notice headless statue

signing up for  the tour

  In Fellini's La Dolce Vita  actors carrying lighted candlebra romped  through the courtyard and along the garden paths. They were depicting  the decadence of  Roman nobility  and interestingly enough, some of these film extras were actually members of the very caste  they were deriding. 

 Generations of  neglect, irresponsible caretakers  and careless  film crews  have added to the problems of the huge property.   

missing fireplace

Over the last few decades anything of value that was not   attached  to the walls (or ceilings) was carried off and sold. Thus the gaping holes where fireplaces once stood and headless statues.   Only the frescoes  remain to  remind us of the property's glorious past. 

empty rooms 
When the castle  was  on the brink of complete ruin, the local university  contemplated purchasing it. The several hundred hectares of prime forest land and  the huge gardens would have made a perfect Forestry laboratory. 

Door to castle gardens-will they ever be open to the public? 

 Eventually the Italian state stepped in, purchasing it in 2003, and numerous restoration projects are now under way.   

chapel 's ceramic floor 

Diana of Epheseus fresco in former chapel 
The castle is a  unique calling card for  the town of Bassano  Romano and its environs. It is auspicable that future plans include accessibility to the building, gardens and woods for  the general public. 

street shrine  in Bassano Romano 

 In a recent interview, the former head of Lonely Planet  guidebooks  named  the Northern Lazio  region-between Orvieto and Viterbo-as one of the most  unique and interesting areas of Europe.
 Because it is still authentic and untamed, it is more precious.  Being  50 years behind the times  adds  to its attractiveness, especially for people from over-developed (strip malls,etc) countries.

The problem is that with such a concentration of  historic buildings, art works and sites of importance, it is difficult  to organize priorities: what to restore and what to ignore. 

an altar near the castle entrance

 Your ideas and   comments are very welcome. 
 Just click on the comment logo below. 
What future for  La Dolce Vita castle?  




  1. A fascinating place; I'm sure a treat for you to visit.

  2. Mary Jane,

    This is so interesting! (As all of your posts are!) I'm happy to pass this along ... such an amazing area with so many treasures. I love it!

  3. A very interesting post which of course I am happy to share.

  4. thanks Anonymous, Pamela and LindyLou for your comments and shares. I'd be interested to know if you have visited any of the places I've written about.

  5. Chiοs Real Εѕtаte Agents ωith experience in devеloping houѕes and buіlԁings
    Also visit my web blog - Chios Greece Real estate

  6. Hello Marie-Jane. Remember me ? we met at the hairdresser's in Vetralla. We're back home in Belgium, eagerly counting the days untill we can return to Viterbo. Up to now we've visited the must known sites in the area, like the necropolis of Tarquinia, Norchia, Cerveteri and a few of the lesser known (Tuscania, Castel d'asso, Ferento ...(as you can see we have a keen interest in etruscan and roman archeology), together with a few of the country houses like Villa Lante, Villa Farnese and the gardens at Bomarzo. Ruspoli castel and gardens is programmed for next visit.I have read your article with great interst and I am certain I will learn a lot about the area if I continue following your blog !
    If you organize excursions or visits on regular basis, maybe we can join you on one of our visits to Vetralla.
    Greetings from a cold and rainy Belgium,
    Martine De Becker

  7. Thank you Martine for the comments. You are lucky to be back in it is just too hot for too long a time. Subscribe by adding your email here below so you wont miss any new blog posts...and check out my newly redesigned website. I am adding new articles daily.Thanks for spreading the word about our area to your friends in Belgium.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. So glad to see that people on the island of Chios are reading my blog.
    What a beautiful place it is, and how many connections with this area.
    Thanks for the comments.

  10. Thank you Voyage for commenting. Also in Sicily there are magnificent castles and historic palazzi that tell of the island's checkered past.

  11. Hi I am a big reader, would really appreciate an invite. Your blog is very nice and I really enjoy the style and content. THanks

  12. Brings back memories of many happy weekends in northern Lazio

  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. Very interesting post. I recently watched La Dolce Vita again and I wondered where the party scenes were shot.