Save Villa Massoni in Massa

Villa Massoni is one of the ancient residences of the Cybo-Malaspina dukes of Massa. Today it is in a state of total abandonment and degradation but we can work to save it.

In Massa, a provincial capital city in Tuscany as well as the former capital of a prosperous duchy in ancient times, there is a residence, Villa Massoni, also known as Villa di Volpigliano (after the name of the area of the city on which it stands) that is a very illustrative case of abandoned cultural heritage. But let us go in order, first telling the history of the villa.

The building was built in the early seventeenth century by a Genoese nobleman, Giulio Paceri1: later, in 1637, the prince of Massa and Carrara (the state would become a duchy a few years later) Carlo I Cybo-Malaspina took over what was then a small villa to which a turret was attached. Thus it was that the building became an official residence of the family that ruled Massa and Carrara. At the end of the century, Duke Charles II commissioned the court architect Alessandro Bergamini to enlarge the building and design a sumptuous loggia: when the work was completed, Charles II decorated the villa with statues made by sculptors from Carrara but also with archaeological finds from the excavations in Ostia and received as a gift from his uncle Alderano Cybo, a cardinal.

In these years the villa became a place of ceremonies, a theater of celebrations, as well as a representative villa of the duchy. However, the situation soon changed under the duchy of Alderano I, who, due to debts, was forced to sell many of the works of art that adorned the villa (a fate that also befell other city buildings, which were also stripped to allow the duke to pay his debts). Thus began a decline that came to a halt in 1798 when a Swedish nobleman, Adolf Fredrik Munck, bought it and inaugurated the restoration work with a celebration commemorating the building’s past splendor. With the work commissioned by Count Munck, the casino, which constitutes an annex of the villa, was also added.

The villa took on its present form during the nineteenth century, when a new owner, the Carrarese industrialist Pantalone Del Nero, who had purchased the villa from Count Munck who had put it up for sale to pay, in turn, his debts, commissioned the architect Isidoro Raffo to carry out some modernization work. Also during the 19th century the property passed to the Massoni counts of Lucca (from whom the name by which the villa is known today), and then to the Casonato family, the current owners.

Still the scene of festivities until a few decades ago, the villa is currently in a state of total abandonment: the building has now become unrecognizable and the vegetation of the vast park (praised in the 18th century by the German painter Georg Christohp Martini, who described it as a garden that "seems larger than real because of the terraces situated one under the other"2) surrounding the villa has taken over everything. Here are some pictures we took on Saturday that can offer visual evidence of the state of neglect Villa Massoni is in (we took pictures from the outside but you can still get a sense of Villa Massoni’s deterioration):

La targa di Villa Massoni a sinistra del cancello d'ingresso L'ingresso di Villa Massoni Il cancello d'ingresso è stato ricoperto dalla vegetazione

La targa in marmo a destra del cancello è stata asportata Dal cancello si intravede come il parco sia stato sopraffatto dalla sua stessa vegetazione La villa in lontananza

Over the past few years there have been several interventions aimed at trying to save Villa Massoni from degradation, but unfortunately none of them have borne fruit. Recently, however, a number of Massoni associations, including the Massa Picta association (which can be reached on Facebook at are doing their best to ensure that Villa Massoni can climb the FAI(Fondo Ambiente Italiano) list of Places of the Heart: arriving in the top positions would mean access to important economic contributions for the recovery of abandoned cultural property. There would remain a knot to untie, that of ownership, which is still private, but a substantial contribution could unblock the situation.

It is therefore possible to vote for Villa Massoni as a place of the heart by connecting to this address and expressing your preference for Villa Massoni. Alternatively, the associations that support the initiative have set up signature collection points in several commercial establishments in the city of Massa: for those who live in or should travel to Massa it could be an alternative way to provide their support (the list of establishments can be found on the Facebook page of the Massa Picta association). An interesting initiative to try to restore Villa Massoni to its former condition!


1. For information on the history of Villa Massoni we consulted these bibliographic sources:
  1. Franco Bonatti, Massa Ducale, Giardini Publisher, 1987
  2. Massimo Bertozzi, Massa, Sagep, 1985
  3. Ovidio Guaita, The Villas of Tuscany, Newton & Compton, 1997

2. This excerpt by Georg Christoph Martini from Reise nach Italien (“Journey to Italy”) is quoted translated into Italian in Franco Bonatti, Massa Ducale, Giardini Publisher, 1987.

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