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Official Royal Castel Web site: Castello Reale di Racconigi
Official Racconigi Web site: Visita Racconigi
Photos by Lucia Ranieri

The Royal Castle of Racconigi is located in the town of Racconigi in the province of Cuneo. Situated not far from Turin, it served as a summer and autumn residence for the Savoy family. Since 1997, it has been part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

In 1091, when the Racconigi fiefdom became part of the Marquisate of Saluzzo, there was already a building derived from an older structure. In the following century, Manfredo II of Saluzzo built the first square-shaped castle for territorial defense.

From fortress to Royal Castle

From 1372, Marquess Federico II of Saluzzo temporarily pledged the castle to the Falletti counts, reclaiming it after a few years. When the Savoy-Acaja lineage ended with Ludovico’s death in 1418, the Savoys granted the castle and the fief of Racconigi to Ludovico’s only natural but illegitimate son, also named Ludovico, who became Lord of Racconigi, initiating the Savoy-Racconigi dynasty.

Royal Castle of Racconigi

In 1605, with Bernardino II’s death, the Savoy-Racconigi family line also ceased. The widow continued to use the castle until her passing. The castle then became the property of the duchy.

Carlo Emanuele I bestowed the castle upon his son Tommaso Francesco di Savoia, the progenitor of the Savoy-Carignano family, in 1620.

When Emanuele Filiberto, Tommaso’s son, inherited the castle, it still resembled a classic medieval fortress, a square structure with four corner towers, a moat, and a drawbridge. Emanuele Filiberto commissioned Guarino Guarini in 1676 for the first major renovation.

Guarini expanded the structure with a large central building and two four-story pavilions in place of the corner towers. The project also involved redesigning the park by French landscape architect André Le Nôtre. After completion, in 1684, Emanuele Filiberto chose the castle as the venue for his wedding to Maria Caterina D’Este.

In 1757, Ludovico Luigi Vittorio di Carignano had Giovanni Battista Borra carry out several remodeling works. The castle then acquired a neoclassical appearance with the addition of columns.

Carlo Alberto and the Royal Castle of Racconigi

The significant renovation of Racconigi Castle occurred in 1832, commissioned by Carlo Alberto: the last Prince of Carignano and the new King of Sardinia. A frequent visitor during summer and autumn, he entrusted the work to Ernesto Melano.

The engineer raised the ancient central structure further and created the two large lateral wings. He constructed buildings in a “C” shape and demolished some houses and a mill to expand the square in front of the castle.

The interiors were overseen by Pelagio Pelagi and the cabinetmaker Gabriele Capello, known as Moncalvo. In 1834, the painter Marco Antonio Trefogli adorned the halls and Carlo Alberto’s bathroom with frescoes.

Meanwhile, the German landscape architect Xavier Kurten redeveloped the park. Notably, the Margaria was built at the park’s end, once again through collaboration between Pelagio Pelagi and Gabriele Capello.

Last glories

During the late 1800s, successors to Carlo Alberto showed less interest in Racconigi Castle. However, when Vittorio Emanuele III ascended the throne in 1900, the castle regained prominence as a summer retreat. The king oversaw improvements, including water and electricity installations in 1901, illuminating the park and grounds. Notably, the Scalone d’Onore (Grand Staircase) was adorned by Vittorio Emanuele III, featuring a comprehensive genealogical depiction of the Savoy family.

In the early 1900s, the castle hosted significant events, such as the birth of Italy’s last king, Umberto II, on September 15, 1904, and a visit by Tsar Nicholas II during the signing of the Treaty of Racconigi in 1909. Additionally, Princess Mafalda’s wedding took place there in 1925.

Abandonment and rebirth

With the birth of the Italian Republic in 1946, Racconigi Castle was closed and confiscated by the state. Descendants of Princess Mafalda (Princesses Jolanda, Giovanna, and Maria) contested the legitimacy of the 1930 donation to Umberto II. In 1972, the Court of Cassation ruled that only Umberto II’s portion—approximately one-fifth of the entire estate—was subject to confiscation. However, it was also established that if sold to a private buyer, the Italian state had the right of first refusal. In 1980, Umberto II finally sold the entire property to the state, with a stringent condition: the castle area must serve educational, cultural, and informative purposes.

Thanks to restoration efforts driven by various entities, including the Environmental Heritage Superintendency, Racconigi Castle reopened on May 23, 1993.

Interiors of Royal Castle of Racconigi

The castle’s interiors have undergone multiple renovations over time. We find original 18th-century spaces, others in neoclassical style, and finally, Art Deco rooms from the 20th century.

Salone d’Ercole (Hercules Hall)

The Hercules Palace, constructed in 1757 by architect Giovanni Battista Borra, features a neoclassical style and was built on a medieval courtyard. It is often used for hosting guests and serves as a ballroom due to its excellent acoustics.

The Diana Hall

The remodeled hall, designed by Borra in 1757, served as the entrance to the palace. It was dedicated to the goddess Diana, associated with hunting. The hall features large windows that offer views of the park and is notable for its four Murano glass chandeliers and Guarini’s marble fireplaces.

Chinese apartment

The Chinese apartment, a component of the larger royal guest quarters from the same 1757 renovation, boasts rich decoration. Its walls are adorned with hand-painted rice paper wallpaper imported from London. Among its fine furnishings is a Japanese sedan chair. Notably, this apartment hosted illustrious guests, including Tsar Nicholas II in 1909.

The Etruscan cabinet

The Etruscan Cabinet, located on the second floor, originally served as Carlo Alberto’s private study. It is part of the intervention carried out by Pelagio Pelagi and del Moncalvo in the 1830s. The doors, armchairs, table, and vase pedestals feature inlaid Olympian gods by del Moncalvo based on designs by Pelagi.

The Reception Hall

This is the most opulent and prestigious hall. Here, the Savoy royals received important figures such as ambassadors and diplomats. The ceiling is adorned with gold leaf, incorporating Carlo Alberto’s monogram. The sofas and armchairs are upholstered in Savoy blue fabric, and the grand chandelier is made of Bohemian crystal.

Royal castle of Racconigi

Princes’ Apartments

The Princes’ Apartments consist of several modest-sized rooms (five of which have a small antechamber) renovated in the early 1900s. Initially believed to have housed Crown Prince Uberti and the sisters Iolanda, Mafalda, Giovanna, and Maria (children of Vittorio Emanuele III), recent studies suggest that these rooms were actually intended for certain court members, such as the butler and the queen’s lady-in-waiting.

Portrait Gallery

The Portrait Gallery derives its name from the collection of portraits assembled by Umberto II starting in 1920. All the portraits hold significant artistic value and represent a sufficiently comprehensive dynastic lineage. It is believed that the gallery was initially devoid of decorations because, at Queen Margherita’s request, it served as a space for typhoid patients during an outbreak in Racconigi in the late 19th century.

Second floor apartments

The second floor underwent a complete overhaul in the early 1900s. Notably, Queen Elena (wife of Vittorio Emanuele III) furnished her bedroom unusually. She installed a double bed to share with her husband—a practice common today but considered rare and daring at the time. It was in this room that Umberto II, the last king of Italy, was born in 1904.

Around 1930, Umberto II personally oversaw the creation of a bathroom. The room was equipped with state-of-the-art technology for the era, including running water, heating, and linoleum flooring.

In the apartment dedicated to Maria Jose, take note of the music salon. Completed in 1931 with a Murano glass chandelier, it still houses a period gramophone.

The kitchens

The kitchens are perhaps the highlight of Racconigi Castle. They were outfitted with all the modern amenities of the time, featuring an abundance of utensils, molds, tools, water sources, and large wood-burning stoves. Later, a gear-driven rotisserie was installed in the central fireplace. In 1903, with the advent of electricity, electric lighting and a hot water boiler were added. Adjacent to the kitchens are the icehouse and the butcher’s room. The ground-floor spaces of the old kitchen were transformed into a pantry for food and wine storage.

Royal castle of Racconigi

Royal Park

The park of Racconigi Royal Castle covers approximately 170 hectares and is enclosed by a wall. In the 1600s, the park was designed by French landscape architect André Le Nôtre, known for his work on the gardens of Versailles. In the 1700s, it was partially modified by Giacomo Pregliasco, resulting in lush and wild areas. Later, German architect Xavier Kurten transformed the park into a romantic style in 1836 at the request of Carlo Alberto.

Like the entire estate, the park gradually expanded after being confiscated by the state. During restoration, it was returned to its original 19th-century state, featuring approximately 25 kilometers of avenues, watercourses, and an 18-hectare lake.

Royal castle of Racconigi

The park boasts over 2000 trees, including some fruit trees. Notably, a 200-year-old zelkova tree stands 35 meters tall. Birdlife in the park includes herons and hawks, while Racconigi storks typically nest on the castle’s chimneys and the Margaria building. Squirrels and foxes also inhabit the park.

Canals within the park facilitate water exchange in the lake. Water is drawn from the Maira stream and distributed through various channels.

Within the park, you’ll find the intentionally incomplete Doric Temple, designed to resemble an ancient ruin. The Grotto of Merlin is another intriguing feature—an artificial tunnel adorned with stalactites and stalagmites from the Bossea caves.

Also of note is the Russian Dacia (now housing a library and café). It was constructed during Tsar Nicholas II’s visit in 1909.

The Margaria, a farmhouse designed by Pelagio Pelagi, stands out as the most significant structure within the park. Its advanced heating system was ahead of its time.