Rocchetta Mattei, a Moorish jewel among Bologna’s Apennines
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A few miles from Porretta, nearby Grizzana Morandi, there’s a building whose architecture cannot fail to impress those who come across it. Between the green mountains of the Bologna’s Apennines you find a castle that combines the medieval and the Moorish styles…very original and atypical for the area! It’s the Rocchetta Mattei, built in the second half of the Nineteenth Century by desire of count Cesare Mattei, intellectual and homeopath founder of a medical science called electromyopathy, a sort of mixture of homeopathy, phytotherapy, alchemy and magnetism.
Born in Bologna in January 1809 in a wealthy family, Mattei grew up in contact with the greatest thinkers of his time; at the death of his mother in 1844, however, he left the political and social life to retire to develop (although not graduated) a “new medicine” that should have been more effective than the traditional one, which failed to treat his mother.
Over the course of few years, Mattei developed a science based on the combination of homeopathic-like granules (whose principles were extracted from medicinal plants and processed with a secret method) with 5 electric liquids, useful for restoring the correct balance of the electric charges of the body, to bring it back to “neutrality”.
The medical practice exerted by Mattei soon spread throughout Europe and his remedies became very popular, even abroad. Mattei was also mentioned by Dostoevskji in The Brothers Karamazov.
The construction of the castle began in 1850 (on the ruins of the ancient fortress of Savignano, which probably belonged to Matilde di Canossa) and continued throughout the life of the count, who resided there to direct the rebuilding and expansion works.
The castle was in fact designed by Mattei to be the seat of his “new medicine” and to host people (including numerous illustrious guests of the time) who came to 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 by the count during his life, making it a maze of towers, monumental staircases, reception rooms and private rooms that recall different styles, from medieval to Moorish, from Art Nouveau to gothic.
Among the clearest decorative references we find the one at the Alhambra in Granada for the Courtyard of the Lions and the one at the Great Mosque of Cordoba for the chapel where the count is buried.
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Thanks to its very special atmospheres, Rocchetta Mattei was chosen as background of a crime novel by the Bolognese writer Loriano Macchiavelli, “Delitti di gente qualunque”, and as set of 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.
On Mattei’s death in April 1896, the castle was completed by his adopted son Mario Venturoli Mattei, who at the same time continued the production and distribution of the “Mattei Remedies” until 1959, when the laboratories were forced to close.
After several attempts to sell it to the Municipality of Bologna or to other institutions, the heirs concluded the sale with a local merchant, Primo Stefanelli, whose goal was to make it a tourist attraction. However, with the death of Stefanelli the Rocchetta was definitively closed to the public.
Thanks to the Cassa in Risparmio di Bologna Foundation, which purchased it in 2005 and reopened to the public in 2015, and to the Municipality of Grizzana Morandi that manages it (with the collabioration of the Union of Municipalities of the Bologna’s Apennines and the Metropolitan City of Bologna), the Rocchetta Mattei is an architectural jewel that everyone can visit today.