Sunday, June 28, 2009
Castello di San Sebastiano da Po
Castello di San Sebastiano da Po from across the valley.
We slept in a bit this morning. I didn't get up until I felt Brandon tickling me at 8:30am.
Wow, where to begin? This day would change my whole perspective about the castle. As I mentioned yesterday, when we arrived I saw the castle as a place that needed some tender loving care. I had the impression we would be sleeping in luxury. What we found was an old castle that has maintained a lot of its original rustic charm. Its not a fancy place, but it is authentic and it is full of amazing history. I will try to capture some of its long colorful history in a short overview.
After getting ready for the day, we made our way down to the breakfast room in the basement of the castle.
Parts of the old kitchen that are still intact in what is now the breakfast room.
Breakfast was a mixture of caffe, tea, orange juice, hot chocolate, cereal and milk, some cookies and some bread. All very tasty.
After breakfast we explored the downstairs rooms of the castle and the inner courtyard.
Fountain located inside courtyard.
We made our way back up to the front of the castle. Brandon wanted to give us a tour of the gardens. They are a rather large area of the castle. There are roses and palm trees, a reflecting pool, fruit trees, a greenhouse, a large field within the main walls, some trails and a lookout hill in the middle. Brandon and I even found a hidden passage, but it had bars over the entrance. Katrina took hundreds of pictures. She told me she could have stayed all day just taking pictures of the place.
Lavender in the garden.
Looking into one section of the greenhouse.
Another section of the greenhouse.
The open field between the lower castle walls on the left and the upper castle walls on the right.
Another view of the upper wall from the field.
Bell and clock tower.
View of a villa across the valley, from the upper walled area.
View of the valley to the east, looking down on the Po River. Today was a hazy and humid day.
Another view from up high. This is the entrance to the cemetary from the castle.
When we made our way back to the main entry area, Luca was there. He wanted to show us some special places in the castle, but he had to meet with a couple who were arriving to plan their wedding. He asked his father, Guido, to show us around. This was going to be an interesting tour in many ways. First off, Guido didn't speak any English. We would be listening to his stories in Italian and trying to pick up what we could. It was Guido's passion for the castle that made me realize what a special place it was. Guido first led us into the cellars, as promised by Luca. This was the beginning of a history lesson that would last for a couple of hours.
The cellars are more like underground passages. No electricity. Guido gave Brandon a candle to light the way into the pitch black passages. At first he did not want to hold it, so Katrina took it. It quickly became clear that Brandon should lead the way holding the candle since he was the shortest. That way the candlelight was closer to the floor for us to see where we were stepping. My first thought - this was another example of something that would not happen in the United States. We could only see a foot or so in front of us.
As we made our way slowly through the tunnels we saw storage areas with giant wooden casks and the underground cistern and wells. The underground passages made their way down the hillside under the lower parts of castle. At the bottom Guido had us step down into another tunnel that ran parralel to the lane just above. The tunnel was only about 20 meters long, if that. It was bricked off on each end. Guido explained to us that this was part of the old Roman underground passages. That tunnel ran for several kilometers to another village. It ran all the way down the hillside and under the Po River. It was used as a secret passageway to get food and other small goods up into the castle.
Guido unlocked an old wooden door that led out onto the lane and gave us the option to go back up into the castle through the passageways or walk up the lane. Brandon chose the lane.
We met Guido back up in the main courtyard. Now he was going to take us down to the lower half of the castle. We went down a flight of stairs, past the breakfast, billiard and sitting rooms, to a doorway off of the inner courtyard. He tried to get Brandon to unlock the door for us, but he was not strong enough. Did I mention the keys? I don't think so. The keys for our room and all the doors in the castle are the old big heavy and long steel keys. This lock was tight and Brandon just could not get it open. Guido took a turn and we walked into a sitting room where more stories were to be shared. Guido told us how many of the items in the room were from the Palazzo Realto in Torino. The Italians moved a lot of important palace fixtures to the castle during WWII. They also moved a lot of many important sculptures and monuments to the castle grounds before the Americans bombed Torino.
Going back in time, Guido also told us some stories about Napolean. His troops apparently held the castle for some time. When they left they took many treasures from the castle back to Paris for display in the Louvre.
The next room was another sitting room with a small terrace and views of the valley. The room was designed in perfect alignment so that once a year at summer solstice the light would shine and reflect through the room in perfect alignment and that is how the time on the bell tower was set.
The room after that was a very long room used for meetings and banquets. The walls were covered in frescos from the time of Napolean. We spent a lot of time in this room as Guido told us historical stories. The artist who painted the frescoes was Beggatti, an artist of Napolean. We are not sure if that is the correct spelling? He was a map maker for Napolean. Guido even showed us an old map of the castle. The frescoes on the wall all relate to the power and might of Napoleon.
Guido tells his stories with great passion. Just look at the hand gestures.
Guido also told us how the castle was often used as a meeting place for Italian politicians of northern Italy to debate laws before they were officially voted on in Torino.
One story told of an French politician, Teran (not sure of spelling again) who hosted a banquet for friends and enemies from Paris. One of the servers came into the room with a large platter of trout and tripped, spilling it on the floor. All the guests looked at Teran to see how he would react. Would he get upset? Would he laugh? He just snapped his fingers and another tray of trout was presented. This banquet was so important that he made sure extra trout was available.
Guido had so much to say. I have barely touched on the stories and history he told us. Partly because I only understood less than half of what he was saying. Katrina understoom a bit more and helped fill me in. It didn't matter, the expressions on his face and the joy he had in sharing the stories was all worthwhile. His passion for Castello di San Sebastiano da Po changed my opinion of the place. It was not a run down castle. It was an authentic part of history. It was unchanged. It wasn't glamorous. It wasn't luxurious. It was real and historical. We wouldn't get a candlelight tour of the hidden passages at most castles. We wouldn't get to feel the walls crumble a bit as we worked our way through the dark. The smells, the dirt, the old walls, the crumbling stucco, the creaky floors. We were taking a trip back in history thanks to the generous caretakers and owners of Castello di San Sebastiano. What a beautiful place.
Brandon making friends with the castle cat.
After our tour with Guido we gathered our belongings and put them in the car. Katrina wanted to take a few more pictures in the greenhouse. Brandon and I met her there. We walked and played in the gardens while waiting for Katrina.
We finally checked out and left the castle around 1pm. Katrina was not interested in taking the autostrada home, so we turned down the local highway and drove. We were hungry for lunch. We found Dolcezze Cavagnolesi about 9km down the road. We had a great lunch of sandwiches, coke and some tasty treats for dessert.
At this point we were tired, so now we headed to the autostrada and drove home. I spent most of the evening working on this blog, Katrina read and Brandon played.
It was a great weekend visiting a new place thanks to Brandon's urging. This evening Brandon is sleeping in his pop up tent on the balcony again.