A spellbinding story and podcast
by Vanessa Grall from messynessychic.com uncovers La Scarzuola, the setting of Gucci Bloom’s new campaign.
Deep in Italy, One Man's Secret Surrealist Mini-City Sleeps
If there is a gate to Narnia, to a parallel universe free from reality, it’s probably hiding here, amongst the pointed trees of a secret garden deep in the hills of Umbria. At the end of a winding, white gravel road, a pull cord bell tolls the arrival of intrepid guests fortunate enough to find it, and the enormous gates creak open to reveal an otherworldly place, both dreamlike and forbidding. La Scarzuola...
Picture an empty city of stone, whispering echoes of a sacred spring as it trickles down the hillside. A maze of mysterious symbols and exotic flora surround you. Tread on these ancient grounds, and you walk the blueprint of a man’s life devoted to the creation of his own theatrical utopia. A Milanese architect, Tomaso Buzzi came to these hills in 1956, when all that was here was the abandoned shell of a forgotten medieval monastery. Spellbound by the ghostly domain, he acquired the land where he would begin compulsively mapping out his own ideal mini-city, grappling with the highs and lows of life as he engraved them on the landscape. What he left behind here remains entirely unique in all the history of architecture, more surreal than any Fellini film set, and yet somehow, La Scarzuola remains Italy’s most enchanting undiscovered secret.
As legend tells it, Saint Francis of Assisi himself found refuge on this remote hillside centuries before when he planted a laurel and a rose, from which water “miraculously gushed forth”, and still flows on the grounds of La Scarzuola today. The name itself originates from an indigenous marsh plant called “scarza”, which Saint Francis allegedly used to build himself a small hut. As do so many places in Umbria, the site became steeped in Franciscan history and lore. From a humble church to a 16th century monastery, it flourished as a faithful community, a place of prayer and meditation, before falling silent again in the 19th century and left to ruin.
Tomaso Buzzi discovered the isolated complex, abandoned and dilapidated, at the height of his career. He had restored some of Italy’s most important palazzos, earning notoriety as the favourite architect and designer of the bourgeoisie. But there was something about the site of La Scarzuola that pulled him away from it all.
In his notes, he described it as a place for “music and silence, for greatness and misery, for a social life and a hermitic life of contemplation in solitude, reign of Fantasy, of Fairy Tales, of Myths, of Echoes and Reflections outside of time and space..”
Perhaps there’s something in the water at La Scarzuola, something magical, flowing between the vaults and fountains, reflecting the marvellous eccentricity of Buzzi’s surreal citadel. It all began with his careful restoration of the monastery, before a greater vision took hold. “An autobiography in stone”, he called it, where all the pleasures and vices of his life could mingle in one mind-boggling place.
Towering nude torsos protrude from jagged temples, stairways and bridges lead to nowhere echoing the dreamlike worlds of Dali and Escher. To roam the gardens is to witness a theatrical show that plays out on seven inter-connected stages, one big enough to hold 600 invisible spectators, thought to symbolize the soul being shown and hidden all at once. La Scarzuola has its own Tower of Babel, its own pyramids and Parthenon and Arc de Triomphe – a truly mountainous mash-up of Classical, Gothic, Renaissance, and Mannerist structures, inspired by famous constructions of the past. In this warped cityscape, you are strolling through someone’s stream of consciousness, an architect’s surreal sketchbook in monstrous detail. The buildings serve no discernable purpose, masking layers of meaning and esoteric symbolism that permeate every stone pillar. Mystical moons and eerie stone eyes surprise the visitor at every turn to send shivers down the spine.
Tomaso Buzzi died in 1981, leaving an endless obsession for his Città Ideale—meaning Ideal City in italian—unfinished. The surreal blueprints are now in the hands of Buzzi’s equally eccentric nephew, Marco Solari, who lives on the labyrinthine estate today, welcoming travellers off the beaten path.
Solari frequently refers to notes and drawings left by his uncle and believes his fantastical structures were based on an obscure book published in 1499, one admired by the great psychologist of the 20th century, Carl Jung. A surrealist tale of the pursuit of love in a dreamlike landscape, La Scarzuola does indeed appear to have jumped right off its pages.
Keeping the history alive through restoration, research and storytelling, Solari has devoted his life to its preservation. The old Franciscan convent too, has found renewed importance under his guardianship. Some 15 years after Buzzi’s passing, Marco discovered a 13th century fresco while restoring the monastery’s old church. The work depicting Francis of Assisi in a state of levitation is believed to be one of the first visual representations of the Saint.
Weaving a story of art and architecture with one of magic and miracle, if it were anywhere else, La Scarzuola would be a landmark today, but its remote location, tucked away in the hills of Umbria, has hid it from the world – or at least, from those who aren’t curious enough to find it.
Let it instead, be an ode to the mad architects who convert their dreams to stone in places where they do no harm and where they lend an aura of romance and mystery to the world. If only one could capture that aura inside of a bottle and take it home… messynessychic.com