Riviera del Brenta Culture
CULTURE OF BRENTA VILLAS
During its hey day in the 15th and 16th Centuries, Venice was a wealthy city and the very rich began to build grand villas along the Brenta River which were commonly referred to as “Villeggiatura”. While most are still privately owned, there are some notable villas that are open to the public and worth the house call.
Villa Nazionale – Stra
As you approach this extraordinary 18th Century villa, once owned by the Pisani family, you will take a walk back in time through its beautiful gardens. There is a famous maze, which is the most preserved in all of Europe. The citrus scent from the fruit trees is pungent and the greenhouse offers delicate flowers and plants.
As you enter the house itself, you will be surrounded by the original architecture, filled with incredible frescoes, including one of Gianbattista Tiepolo’s most famous, “The Glory of the Pisani Family”, painted on the ballroom ceiling. It is a miracle that this masterpiece is still in tact, since at the beginning of the 19th century the villa was renovated by none other than Napoleon and his stepson Eugène Beauharnais.
Villa Widmann-Foscari in Mira
The fragrant lime trees greet you as you approach this stately house, situated in Mira, which is halfway between Venice and Padua. As the name suggests, the Villa Widmann-Foscari had several owners, however the original owners were the Sceriman family, who were wealthy Persian-Armenian merchants who wished to assimilate with Venice society. It was built in 1719 by the Venetian architect Andrea Tirali at a site known as “La Riscossa” and contains an interior decorated with magnificent frescoes by Zelotti.
The Sceriman ‘s family trade business fell on difficult times in the mid 18th Century, and so, the Widmann family bought the property and transformed the Villa and its surroundings to the beauty that we enjoy today.
The villa changed hands two more times before being acquired by the current owner, The Province of Venice. The complex consists of the main mansion, which houses an auditorium for meetings and conventions, as well as other large ballrooms where social and cultural events take place. There is also a small church where two members of the Widmann family are buried. The huge park extending to the north is still embellished with 18th century statues of nymphs, gods and cupids, positioned amongst horse-chestnut trees, cypress and a little lake.
The Foscari family goes back a long way in Venice. They were ambassadors and council members and Francesco Foscari was doge of Venice in the mid 15th Century. The family wanted to build a residence that was worthy of their position and commissioned the famous architect Palladio to create a structure in Mira, that was to look like a castle. The main building has a grand and stately look to it, rising above ground so the house staff could tend to their duties on ground level and the family and guests would rise above it. Two grand staircases were designed for the kings, dukes and other influential guests who frequented there.
The Foscaris were strong minded and, legend has it that the reason the Villa is nicknamed “La Malcontenta” is due to one female family member who was confined to the house for her infidelity.
Unfortunately, in the 1930s, the house was found to be in great disrepair. In 1973, Antonio Foscari, a descendant of the original inhabitants purchased and restored the villa to once again be grand, however they decided not to install any electricity, thereby keeping its original charm intact. UNESCO listed it as a world heritage site in 1993.
Sometimes you look at a palace and wonder about the many stories that occurred inside. To look at the Villa Contarini, located in Piazzola sul Brenta, which is northwest of Padua and not far from the river, you need not look inside at all. Its stories are apparent just by looking at the structure itself and learning about the many transformations of this exquisite estate.
Villa Contarini was first built as a castle at the start of the 2nd Century. This ancient structure remained in tact for years and was eventually purchased by the Carresi family, when, in 1405, they began a long period of control over the city of Padua. In fact, nine members of the Caressi family succeeded one another, creating war and unrest.
Eventually, the Contarini family, one of the founding families of the Venetian Republic, took over the villa as a country estate. This family prided itself on orchestrating changes to culture, trade and technology. And so it is fitting that in the mid 16th Century, they commissioned Andrea Palladio to renovate the main house, by placing extensions on either side, giving it a more “modern” and very grand Baroque appearance.
Unfortunately, for many years after, the estate once again fell in disrepair. At the end of the 19th Century, the Camerini family bought the estate. They were very influential in the industrialization of the area, bringing new life to the region. So, too, did they bring new life to the villa, renovating and decorating it in grand 19th Century style.
But the Villa went through yet another period of neglect until Giordano Emilio Ghirardi came along. He was a famous physicist and had created a foundation called “Fondazione G.E. Ghirardi” which conducts research on health and prevention. Needing a home for his foundation, Ghirardi purchased the Villa as its headquarters. In 2005, the Region of Veneto purchased the Villa and has contributed greatly to its enhancement. Today, Villa Contarini opens its doors to the public for concerts, meetings and other cultural events.
Villa Foscarini Rossi
If you are looking for more than a visit to a beautiful architectural structure, you need look no further than Villa Foscarini Rossi, located in Stra, which lies between Venice and Padua. What makes this estate different is the collections inside. And if you are a fan of Italian art and fashion, you have hit the jackpot.
Starting with the villa itself, it was built in the mid-17th Century and was home a century later to the Foscarini family. Lady Elizabeth was born from one of the most influential families in Venice, the Cornados. She married Pietro Foscarini in 1712 and soon after they purchased the Villa, they commissioned many architects, famous painters and decorators to make enhancements. When Pietro died in 1745, Elizabeth married his brother, Marco, who was the fifty-ninth Doge of Venice and they remained in the Villa until 1811.
There was much damage done to the estate during World War II and the Rossi family eventually purchased it, where it has been restored with great architecture and frescoes. The Rossi lineage dates back to the middle ages and the ancient art of shoemaking. Narciso Rossi founded Rossimoda in 1947, making shoes for brands such as Dior, Christian Lacroix, Fendi, Yves Saint Laurent, among others.
Today, the Villa has been made public and houses an extensive art collection. It is also a museum dedicated to the history of Rossimoda shoes. There you will find every woman’s dream…over 1700 models of the finest women’s luxury shoes.