A few kilometres from Porretta, near Grizzana Morandi, there is a building with an architectural style that is bound to amaze anyone who comes across it. Right in the green mountains of the Bolognese Apennines stands a castle that combines medieval and Arab-Moorish styles, decidedly original and atypical for the area. This is the Rocchetta Mattei, built in the second half of the 19th century by Count Cesare Mattei, a man of letters and homeopath who founded a medical science called electrohomoeopathy, a sort of mixture of homeopathy, phytotherapy, alchemy and magnetism.
Born in Bologna in January 1809 into a wealthy family, Mattei grew up in contact with the leading thinkers of the time. When his mother died in 1844, however, he abandoned his political and social life and retired to develop a ‘new medicine’ that would be more effective than the traditional one, which had failed to cure his mother.
Within a few years Mattei developed a science based on combining homeopathic-like compounds (the active ingredients of which were extracted from medicinal plants and processed using a secret method) with five electrical liquids, which were useful for restoring the correct balance of the body’s electrical charges and bringing it back to a state of ‘neutrality’.
Mattei’s medical practice soon spread throughout Europe and his remedies became very popular, even abroad. Mattei was even mentioned by Dostoevsky in The Karamàzov Brothers.
Construction of the castle began in 1850 (on the ruins of the ancient fortress of Savignano, which probably belonged to Matilda of Canossa) and continued throughout the life of the count, who resided there and directed the rebuilding and expansion work.
The castle was in fact designed by Mattei to be the headquarters of his ‘new medicine’ and to house the people (including many illustrious guests of the time) who came to the Rocchetta from all over the world to learn about his particular science and be treated by him.
The structure of the castle was modified several times during the count’s lifetime, making it a labyrinth of towers, monumental staircases, reception rooms and private rooms with completely different styles, from medieval to Moorish, from Art Nouveau to Gothic.
The most obvious decorative references include the Alhambra in Granada for the Lion’s Courtyard and the Great Mosque of Cordoba for the chapel where the Count is buried.
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Thanks to its very special atmosphere, Rocchetta Mattei was also the setting for a crime novel by Bolognese writer Loriano Macchiavelli, “Delitti di gente qualunque” (Crimes of ordinary people), and a film set for the films “Balsamus, l’uomo di Satana” (1968) and “Tutti defunti tranne i morti” (1977) by Pupi Avati and “Enrico IV” (1984) by Marco Bellocchio..
When Mattei died in April 1896, the castle was completed by his adopted son Mario Venturoli Mattei, who in the same time continued the production and distribution of ‘Rimedi Mattei’ until 1959, when the laboratories were forced to close.
After several attempts to sell it to the Municipality of Bologna or other institutions, the heirs finally sold it to a local merchant, Primo Stefanelli, whose aim was to make it an interesting tourist attraction. With Stefanelli’s death, however, the Rocchetta was definitively closed to the public.
Thanks to the Fondazione Cassa in Risparmio di Bologna, which bought it in 2005 and reopened it to the public in 2015, and to the Municipality of Grizzana Morandi, which manages it (with the patronage of the Unione dei Comuni dell’Appennino Bolognese and the Città Metropolitana di Bologna), the Rocchetta Mattei is an architectural masterpiece that everyone can visit today.
Social Media Manager for @inEmiliaRomagna and full-time mom.
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