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Vivere la campagna
Inverno 2006 - PSE Editore Srl
The walls of the Castle of Sanluri are striking for their proportions, once inside, visitors, especially those fortunate enough to be accompanied by the Count of Sanluri, will discover a host of surprises.
The origins of the Castle of Sanluri are obscure and controversial, but it is believed that it was built in late Medieval times by the judges of Arborea to protect their confines with the judicature of Calaris.
Sardinia’s occupation by Catalan-Aragonese troops led to the fall of the judicature of Cagliari, Torres and Gallura and in 1324 the victorious troops added the Kingdom of Sardinia to the Crown of Aragon. In 1353 hostilities began between the Kingdom of Sardinia and the judicature of Arborea (the last remaining judicature controlled by Sardinians) in which the district of Sanluri, with its castle, held a strategic border location. The conflict would last over 60 years. During the first Sardinian-Aragonese war the castle hosted an important event: the signing of the Peace Treaty of Sanluri in 1355 between Mariano IV of Arborea and Pietro IV of Aragon who was then able to institute the first parliament of the Kingdom of Sardinia. But the peace lasted just ten years and the second Sardinian-Aragonese war began with renewed violence in 1366.
Mariano IV, fearing a future attack on his judicature, conquered Sanluri and annexed it to his territory. At one stage during the conflict, under the reign of Eleonora of Arborea, the castle returned to the Aragonese as Eleonora was forced to hand it over in order to free her husband who had been imprisoned by the King of Spain. As soon as the husband was released hostilities recommenced and in 1391 Eleonora won Sanluri back. It remained in the hands of the Arboreas for another eighteen years until the final assault of “sa Battalla”: the largest battle fought in Sardinia in the middle ages in terms of the number of troops and casualties involved which saw the Sardinians defeated in 1409 outside the walls of Sanluri.
This led to the demise of the judicial age and the occupation of the entire island by Iberian troops. To punish the “traitors” of Sanluri who had supported Arborea, the Aragons killed all of the surviving men and took the women as slaves. With the war over, Sanluri became feudal land and the Castle home to a series of Feudal Lords up until 1838 when the House of Savoy bought the Sardinian fiefdoms. The fact the castle had been inhabited by vassals proved to be its salvation as works carried out by the various owners maintained it intact.
Today, of the 88 castles built in Sardinia, it is the only one which remains habitable.
THE CASTLE’S COLLECTIONS
The castle, which has been completely restored by the present owners, the Counts of Villa Santa, currently houses two historic museums of arms, relics, equipment and important documents which date from the Risorgimento period to the Second World War. The first museum was created after the First World War in memory of Sardinian soldiers. The Duke of Aosta, commander of the third Army (in which the Sardinians served) decided to found a museum, and asked his trusted counsellor, general Nino Villa Santa, to find a suitable structure, The general knew of the castle, now in ruins, and together with the Duke he restructured it and began to set up the first museum with war relics sent by the Duke.
Among these are the Victory flag which flew over the city of Trieste when liberated in 1918 and the original WWI Victory Address, signed by Armando Diaz. Later, during Fascism and the Colonial wars General Villa Santa served in the liberation of Adowa in Ethiopia, where he collected a number of important object, documents and equipment, which would constitute the second museum after the war. A further two wings of the castle have been furnished by the Counts of Villa Santa with antique furniture, sculptures and paintings ranging from the Renaissance to the 19th Century. For some time the Castle has also been home to a third museum: the museum of artistic waxworks holds 343 precious pieces dating from the Florentine Renaissance to the 19th Century and represents one of the most important collections in Europe.
These are artistic waxworks, mainly miniatures: small relief portraits which depict their subject well due to both the natural colours and the three-dimensional effect. Wax is an excellent material for reproducing flesh tones while colours were created by melting pigment in the wax itself allowing them to remain natural and exactly as they were created over 400 years ago. From the Renaissance period onward these “likenesses” became popular, particularly as a precursor to photographs. Wax was also used as a material for making models and the museum houses many models of future works of art, including Naiadi from Neptune’s Fountain in Florence: a model made by Ammannati, architect and artist of the De Medici family.
Several pieces form the 19th Century are also on diplay, including works by Susini, a renowned Florentine wax modeller famous for his anatomical models. All of the castle’s rooms are rich in history and art. A selection of letters sent by the Italian poet D’Annunzio to his friend Nino Villa Santa are particularly interesting. The letters have been recently restored and reflect both the times and D’Annunzio’s love of Sardinia and her people. The castle was recognised as a national monument in 1961 and the Wax collection was declared of exceptional interest in the art-history field in 1991. It is one of 14 Italian castles to have received an acknowledgement for its role in the promotion of culture.