The building was originally a military fort of the Dotti family of Sansepolcro. Following the Battle of Anghiari in 1440, it became a military outpost to defend the territory of Città di Castello. In 1487 it was assigned to Niccolò di Manno Bufalini, to whom we owe the reconstruction work that gave the structure the appearance of an irregular square plan fortress, surrounded by a large moat and with four towers at the corners, one of which is larger: the main tower.
Starting in the 1530s, the fortress was transformed into a noble residence by Julius I Bufalini and his brother, Abbot Ventura. The inclusion of the loggia in the facade and the monumental entrance in a central position dates from that period. The project of the palace was designed by the Florentine architect Giovanni di Alesso, known as Nanni Unghero, and the work was completed around 1560. During the last decade of the seventeenth century and the first years of the eighteenth century, the palace became a pleasant country villa, according to the design of the architect-painter Giovanni Ventura Borghesi from Città di Castello.
The history of the building is inextricably linked to that of the Bufalini family, which owned the castle until 1989, when it was acquired by the State and now belongs to the Ministero della Cultura – Direzione Regionale Musei Umbria.
On the tour you can admire: the panoramic Loggia; the splendid rooms painted by Cristofano Gherardi in the first half of the 16th century; the halls with the furniture, tapestry, paintings, and the showcases that hold the precious majolica tableware and glassware. Prominent among the others are the Stanza degli Stucchi with images of the “donne forti” (brave women) and the Cardinal Giovanni Ottavio Bufalini Room with its beautiful cradle. The park is a typical example of an Italian garden with the rose garden, the vegetable tunnel known as “voltabotte”, the “ragnaia” (natural structure, designed as a bird-trap), fountains, orchard, the so-called “secret garden” and the maze.
Next to the rose garden, in the east corner of the garden, one can admire the maze, an element that was widely used not only for decorative and symbolic purposes, but also because it constituted one of the courtier games par excellence.
Trapezoidal in shape, the maze consists of tall boxwood hedges that draw a geometric network of paths in which only one leads to the exit. Archival records show that it existed as early as the late 17th century and is therefore one of the areas that retains the oldest features of the park. Here were the oldest trees in the garden, a holm oak and the two cypress trees placed at the entrance to the labyrinth, planted in 1694.
Continuing along paths delineated by boxwood hedges pruned as garlands. The irregular space is divided by flowerbeds containing various species of fruit trees (apricot, peach, persimmon, dogwood…) and flowers.
Along the outer enclosure, on the side bordering the highway, runs the long green corridor covered with viburnum, which connects the old lemon house with a belvedere located at the corner of the west fence, also built in the 18th century.
On the west side of the garden, this place was so called because it was the most private part of the park, a place where people could take retreat to rest, read, play, or have a conversation.
Almost certainly, in the past the space with the fountain in the center was divided into four boxwood beds that depicted buffalo heads and noble crowns, heraldic symbols of Bufalini family. In the 18th century was made the large oval basin, probably used as a fishpond. This was surrounded by pots containing lemon, orange, and tangerine plants, which during the Winter were kept in the lemon house on the right.
Next this small building is the nymphaeum decorated with materials and colors that suggest the “grotto” theme. Later a new lemon house was built beside the entrance, now converted into the ticket office and public services area. The four magnolia trees in the center of the flowerbeds were added in the early twentieth century.
Going up the first flight of the noble staircase, one enters the room, carved out of the main tower or keep and later used as a bedroom. The room takes its name from the theme of the frescoes depicted in the vault, inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses and created by the painter Cristofano Gherardi in the first half of the 16th century. At the center of the ceiling is depicted Jupiter (father of the gods) while on the sides are panels with figures of the gods associated with the four elements of the universe: Juno-Air; Vulcan-Fire; Neptune-Water; Ceres-Earth. Other deities appear in the pendentives: Saturn and Filira, Diana, Mars, Venus, Apollo, Minerva, Mercury, and Proserpine. On the lunettes are depicted Love scenes or stories of ancient gods, while under the pendentives there are winged cherubs.
On the lunettes are depicted scenes of love or stories of ancient gods while under the plumes are arranged winged cherubs.
These three rooms on the ground floor housed the kitchens since the sixteenth century. Here were prepared the meals for the lords and servants. Archival documentation provides interesting information about what was purchased and cooked.
In the sixteenth century this area was used as an apartment with bedrooms. From the nineteenth century it became a reception area with lounges and a dining room. The large cupboards display the services and glassware of the Bufalini family. The room contains an interesting 16th-century carved cassone depicting a mythological scene.
On the walls of three rooms, there are portraits of Bufalini family and a number of paintings from the family’s collection, including a panel altarpiece of Luca Signorelli’s school from the church of Sant’Agostino in Città di Castello.
This impressive room, located in the west corner of the building, is dominated by the large fresco celebrating the Glory of the Bufalini family, painted on commission by Filippo I Bufalini and his wife Anna Maria di Sorbello, designed by Giovanni Ventura Borghesi.
On the sides, within stucco frames, are two large canvas paintings with episodes from the Old Testament (the Glory of King David, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba). Above, within ovals, mythological and literary tales inspired by Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. Along the walls are busts belonging to the Bufalini family collection.
The room was created by the closure of one side of the portico after the 1789 earthquake. It was used as a game room with a large billiard table. Today it is an exhibition or conference room, with portraits of various members of the Bufalini family on the walls. Particularly remarkable are those of Filippo I, his brothers and his wife Anna Maria di Sorbello.
This room is part of a series of three rooms in succession which constituted the second private apartment on the ground floor in the sixteenth century. Its decoration was carried out in the very early years of the eighteenth century on the commission of Marquis Niccolò Il Bufalini, brother of Filippo I, who conceived the entire decorative project.
Inside the stucco frames, made by Antonio Milli, are canvas paintings depicting episodes from the lives of “brave women” of myth and history who distinguished themselves by virtue and courage.
This is the only room on the ground floor that preserves the 16th-century decoration by Cristofano Gherardi. The room takes its name from the episode depicted in the center of the ceiling: Prometheus stealing fire from the chariot of the sun, aided by Pallas Athena.
In the pendentives are depicted: Prometheus creating man and animating him with celestial fire, Mercury and Pandora, Pandora opening the vase, and the Suppliation of Prometheus. Of extraordinary interest are the plant festoons of the ribs representing fruits and vegetables probably grown in the castle garden.
On the walls of this chamber, there are paintings on canvas depicting landscapes and battles. Noteworthy are the two 18th-century embroidered robes worn by the servants assigned to transport the sedan chair.
The room was used in the 18th century by Cardinal Giovanni Ottavio Bufalini, an art collector, as his bedroom. The walls are almost completely occupied by paintings from the family collection dating from the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
Dominating the room is the baldachin bed covered with crimson fabric, at the foot of which is the carved shell cradle, made around 1701 to present the children of Filippo I and Anna Maria di Sorbello.
L’archivio e la biblioteca della famiglia Bufalini di San Giustino, inventario e catalogo a cura di Enrico e Laura Giangamboni, Città di Castello – Perugia 2001.
Simona Dindelli, Castello Bufalini: una sosta meravigliosa fra Colle Plinio e Cospaia – San Giustino 2016
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