Castle Odescalchi in Bracciano

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The Orsini-Odescalchi Castle in Bracciano could be considered a palimpsest of history and architecture, a sort of living organism bearing witness to the way it has been repeatedly transformed, renovated, restored and enlarged. In brief, the castle developed in four main stages.
First the construction of the Old Fortress (Rocca Vecchia), in other words the ‘heart’ of the castle built in the late Middle Ages by the prefects of Vico who administered most of the Tuscia region between Rome and Viterbo around the year 1200.
Then, after the castle passed from the Vico to the Orsini, it was enlarged and completely renovated by Napoleone Orsini and his son Gentil Virginio (1470–1496). This is probably the period when Giovannino de Dolci (the architect who designed the Sistine Chapel), and then Francesco di Giorgio Martini and Antoniazzo Romano, and perhaps Andrea Bregno and Giovanni Dalmata, built, fortified and decorated the building respectively. Around this time the most important monumental early Renaissance palaces were also being built (the Ducal Palace in Urbino, Palazzo Medici in Florence, Castel dell’Ovo in Naples and Palazzo Venezia in Rome). The Orsini were familiar with both the buildings and the families who commissioned them, and wished to somehow emulate them. During this period they restored and built buildings in Rome (Montegiordano and Campo de Fiori), Tagliacozzo, Vicovaro, Avezzano, Scurcola Marsicana etc., but Bracciano increasingly became the symbol of their growing military power.
When Bracciano became a Duchy (1560) and the first Duke, Paolo Giordano Orsini, married Isabella de Medici (1558), he decided to turn the fortress into an aristocratic palace. This was the third renovation stage. On various occasions the architects Giacomo del Duca and Nanni di Baccio Bigio, and the painters Taddeo and Federico Zuccari, were invited to court by Paolo Giordano where, Vasari tells us, they painted some of their most outstanding works.
Finally, the crisis which affected the baronial families during the Baroque period forced the Orsini to sell the castle to the Odescalchi in the late seventeenth century during the papacy of Pope Innocent XI. For a brief period it was also sold to the Torlonia, but the Odescalchi repurchased it jus redimendi in the second half of the nineteenth century thanks to the fortuitous marriage between Livio Odescalchi and the Polish princess Sofia Branicka. In 1890 the elegant prince Baldassare Odescalchi renovated the castle in collaboration with his trusted architect Raffaele Ojetti. The client and the architect were of one mind and jointly restored the castle based on John Ruskin’s theories and, as far as possible, the ideas of the Renaissance.
The castle has been open to the public as a museum since 1952.


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The Odescalchi Castle was initially built in 1470 – perhaps designed by architect Francesco di Giorgio Martini – commissioned by Napoleon Orsini, and was completed in 1485 under his son Gentile Virginio’s leadership.
Over the centuries the manor has undergone profound changes and due to its strategic position, was often the protagonist of bitter disputes among the most important noble families of Rome, such as the Colonna and the Borgia families. Pope Alexander VI Borgia even confiscated the Castle in 1496. The first notable paintings in the castle date back to these tormented years. The cycle of paintings dedicated to women is famous, which illustrates life within the palace as time and seasons passed by, recurring to the standards of the late medieval years.
The fresco of the Triumph of Gentile Virginio Orsini by Antoniazzo Romano, a famous painter of the fifteenth century, is of particular value. Only with the end of the pontificate of the vengeful Borgia, the Orsini family finally recovers its ownership of the mansion, and constantly devotes itself to the mansion’s beautification and expansion. At the end of the sixteenth century, the architect and sculptor Giacomo del Duca, one of Michelangelo’s students, conceives a series of artworks for the lavish wedding of Paolo Giordano Orsini and Isabella de’ Medici. Taddeo and Federico Zuccari, brothers and refined interpreters of painting in the late Renaissance period, create frescoes for the event with the horoscope of the couple and the emblems of the two prominent families. Moreover they decorated some of the rooms, including the one that hosted Pope Sisto IV della Rovere in 1481 when he was fleeing from the plague that struck Rome.
In 1696 the Odescalchi family relieves the Orsini family. The Odescalchi family is an ancient dynasty with origins from Como, whose prestige is increased further with the accession to the papal throne of one of its members, Innocenzo XI (1676-1689). The Pope’s nephew, Livio, becomes Prince of the Holy Roman Empire under the ruling of Emperor Leopold I of Hapsburg, for services rendered in the war against the Turks. During French occupation, the castle is plundered of its precious furnishings and then sold with the right of redemption to the Roman family, Torlonia. Only in 1848, Prince Livio Odescalchi III redeems it from Duke Marino Torlonia. His son Baldassarre, a leading figure of Rome of the nineteenth-century, recovers its ancient splendor with a skillful architectural renovation performed by the Roman architect and restorer, Raffaello Ojetti.


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  • Seats : 1000

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Castle Odescalchi in Bracciano

Region : Lazio

Province : RM

City : Bracciano

Address : Piazza Mazzini, 14

ZIP Code : 00062

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Telephone: 0039 06 99804348


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