Monza, Villa Reale closes to public after only six years: furniture removed, exhibitions canceled

Monza's Villa Reale closes to the public just six years after opening, following a multi-year dispute between owner and concessionaire. Canceled scheduled exhibitions, the concessionaire's furnishings will also be removed shortly.

The Villa Reale in Monzacloses to the public after only six years since its opening: the grand Habsburg residence, one of the largest neoclassical buildings in Italy (it was built between 1777 and 1780 to a design by Giuseppe Piermarini), had been lifted from the decay into which it had fallen in the second half of the twentieth century thanks to the restoration begun in 2012, which had allowed the full recovery of the central body of the Villa and the partial recovery of the north and south wings, and was opened to the public on June 26, 2014. It had become an exhibition center, but it was still possible to visit the historic apartments of Umberto I and Margherita di Savoia, who were tenants of the Monza palace (the rooms partly preserve their historic furnishings), and the state rooms that hosted rulers from all over the world.

The closure comes following a very tense period, which was not helped at all by the Covid-19 pandemic, indeed: the spring lockdown was perhaps the event that precipitated the situation as it exacerbated the complex’s difficulties. Since 2014, part of the central body of the neoclassical residence had been entrusted to a private manager, Nuova Villa Reale spa, a subsidiary of Italiana Costruzioni. But frictions with the Villa Reale Management Consortium, that is, the entity that brings together the owners of the villa and its large park (the municipalities of Monza and Milan, the Lombardy Region and MiBACT), and which manages another portion of the complex as well as the routine maintenance of the buildings, the safe upkeep of the structures and the operation of the facilities, go back long before the pandemic: on the table, even before the events of Covid-19, were several issues, especially that of the revision of the concession’s business plan since 2017 (the Villa had budgets in the red by 1.5 million euros per year, reports the local press), and that of the failure to complete the redevelopment of the villa’s wings.

In particular, the concessionaire is still complaining about the Consortium’s failure to respond to the review of the business plan, and for more than a year has been demanding the payment of more than 8 million euros (8,307,370 to be exact) as “sums due” for penalties, cost coverage and investment recovery: in other words, this is the amount the concessionaire estimated as the cost to be incurred to dissolve the contract that bound the parties for 20 years, until 2033, in advance. The concessionaire blames the Consortium for the failure to redevelop the villa’s wings, which would not have allowed a full revitalization of the complex to begin, and then again for the failure to build a parking lot, the concessionaire’s exclusion from Expo 2015 events, and the Consortium’s lack of a strategy for promotion.

In October, one of the entities that is part of the Consortium, the Region, had requested a formal opinion from the Court of Auditors in order to have an assessment of what decisions to make regarding the claims of Nuova Villa Reale. The Court of Auditors, however, had responded by saying it could not rule on the matter, effectively reopening the standoff between the two parties. In November, the latest chapter in the long-running affair: after the nullity sanctioned by the Court of Auditors’ opinion, Nuova Villa Reale had set a date by which the Consortium would have to recognize the “sums due,” postponing to January 15, 2021 the handover of the keys to the portion of Villa Reale entrusted to its management.

The Consortium, however, has not given any formal response to the company, which has therefore decided to declare a divorce and discontinue utilities, cancel all scheduled exhibitions (including the one, under construction, on Salvador Dalí whose opening was scheduled to take place soon), and also to dismantle its fittings: bookshop, kitchens, furniture in the renovated premises including those specially made by architect Mario De Lucchi, which will be auctioned off. The company will hand over the keys to Villa Reale on Jan. 15 to the mayor of Monza (as president of the Consortium), Dario Allevi. The Consortium, for its part, has never spoken openly on the issue, as reported by the Milano Weekend news outlet, which notes that Allevi will speak after Jan. 15: “Once I receive the keys to the Reggia,” said the Consortium president, “I will express myself on what happened, why the relationship with the concessionaire failed and how we will organize the management of the Villa.” The mayor of Monza will talk about the future of Villa Reale again after January 15: an in-house management of the palace is on the horizon, although no details have been revealed so far.

What is the Consortium’s position on the matter? As said, the entity’s “releases” on the issue are few and laconic, but it can be summarized by stating that the Consortium, as recalled in a note of theirs last November 13 by some city committees (the Association of Friends of the Museums of Monza and Brianza, the Committee for the Park A. Cederna and the Committee “The Villa Reale is also mine”), does not believe it has any responsibility for the concessionaire’s claim of more than 8 million euros for lost revenues, and indeed, the citizens say, “identifies a precise responsibility of the latter for the undue withdrawal that has deprived citizens of the possibility of enjoying the monument for more than 7 months now” .

“If they really had the intention to settle the dispute,” the committees recalled, “the manager and the Consortium could obtain a quick decision by resorting to arbitration, which can settle the dispute in 6 months at most.” Beyond the legal issues, the discharge of responsibilities, there are also thorny issues involving the workers, and one wonders what the future of Villa Reale might be. At the moment it is not known: what the citizens are asking for, however, is the return of one of the city’s most precious monuments, “working,” the committees say in their statement, “in the direction of also equipping the Consortium with the necessary skills to manage such an important, especially at this time when culture and art appear to be the only means of compensation, at least partial, for the despondency and frustration into which we have plunged as a result of the pandemic emergency.”

Monza, Villa Reale closes to public after only six years: furniture removed, exhibitions canceled
Monza, Villa Reale closes to public after only six years: furniture removed, exhibitions canceled

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