Sunday, May 1, 2011

Villas of the Veneto: Villa Pisani (Stra)

Located in Stra, about ten minutes outside of Padova facing the Brenta River, Villa Pisani is a very grand complex originally owned by the Pisani family, a very influential and powerful Venetian family during the 17th and 18th centuries.  During this time, the family cashed in on Venice's ever-booming trade industry, and various members of the family became influential politicians, culminating in Andrea Pisani Alvise becoming doge in 1735.  Unfortunately, with the fall of Venice also came the end of the Pisani family's fortune, and the villa was sold to Napoleon, who in turn gave it to Eugene Beuaharnais when the latter was appointed as the French Viceroy of the former Venetian Empire.  The ownership of th villa did not switch back to Italian hands until the unification of Italy, when the villa came under state ownership and subsequently abandonment and disrepair.  Other than some notable visitors and the first meeting between Mussolini and Hitler, the villa only started to gain attention again and much needed restoration until the late 1970s.  During this time, renowned Italian avant garde filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini filmed a part of his film Porcile in the grounds of the villa:

Ever since the restoration, the villa's gardens have been widely recognized as one of the best in Italy.  In 2008, it was voted the best public garden in the country.  In terms of being a manicured garden, it is bound to disappoint.  The grounds it seems were made to look like its old abandoned state:  grass and wildflowers grow everywhere, hedges only give a hint of being neat and clipped, and some statues are covered in moss and lichen.  But I think what it illustrates best is that particular Italian tendency to both control nature and yet make its controlled growth seem natural.  Wildflowers are allowed to grow, but only so much;  irises seem like they grew naturally by the river banks, only they did so in neat rows; the gnarly branches of the anemic orange trees have blossoms coming out of evenly spaced buds.  The effect harks back to the pastoric ideal that lured so much of the Venetian elite away from the urban areas to the countryside.  

A visit to the garden is definitely the highlight of a visit to the villa.  The villa itself experiences the same disrepair that many other historic buildings in the area suffer.  In the case of Villa Pisani, history after the fall of its namesake original owners played-out against it.  It was built right at the death of the culture that valued so much the pastoral idyll that made its construction possible; much of its furniture was stripped by the same man who looted much of the rest of Italy to populate his own public museums in Paris; and its patrician roots definitely did not serve the purpose of the new country that was trying to modernize and democratize like the rest of Europe.  As a result, many of the original furnitures could be merely imagined and its walls suffer many unfortunate cracks and water damage.  No matter:  even if only imagined, the thought of balls, plays, and concerts being performed in this once very elegant space is still effectively conjured by the crumbling walls that stand to represent what once was. 


  1. Hi,

    This is really a great villa with an extraordinarily imposing facade. The architectural elements and the baroque ornaments of the park, the stables and the turrets scattered along the fence are more dynamic and articulate. Thanks for informing about this beautiful villa.

    Apartments Crete

  2. Thanks for the visit! It is one the grandest villa along the Brenta, and definitely well worth the visit.