Friday, December 24, 2010

The Most Beautiful Park in Italy

We already know Italy is a beautiful country, rich in art, culture and history, not to mention the wonderful food. This week, I received notification Racconigi Castle and its park had been voted the 2010 most beautiful park in all Italy. High honors when you consider all the other places that could have easily been so designated.

Racconigi is a town and community in Northern Italy's Piemonte (Piedmont) region, located in the province of Cuneo 25 miles south of Turin, and 3o miles or so north of Cuneo. Historically its economy has been mostly based on agriculture, production of milk and meat, along with some sheet metal industry.

But its claim to fame must have always been its beauty, as kings set up their royal residences here. The park's centerpiece is the Castle of Racconigi, built in 1570 0n the site of an earlier castle that had been there from the beginning of second millennium. The park itself was laid out in 1755 by a French gardener named Molard, eventually enlarged in 1835. In between these dates the Piemonte region had been annexed to France during Napoleon's reign, a fragment of history known as "Racconigi Napoleonica."

According to historian Mario Monasterolo of Terre di Seta,"The annexation took place in three different periods. 1797, a first French invasion: Napoleon compelled Piemonte to surrender many fortresses and cities to France (but our king went on keeping his throne). 1798: a second invasion and the birth of the Republic. The king left Piemonte, but an Austrian - Russian army tried to conquer Piedmont again. 1799: the French army defeated the Austrian - Russian coalition and Piemonte was definitively annexed to France, till the end of Napoleon in 1814."

In 1901 the castle became the summer residence of the King of Italy and in 1997 was added to the World Heritage Site Residences of the Royal House of Savoy. Another highlight of the 20th century was the region's liberation from Nazi occupation at the end of World War Two, cited in Bud Wagner's And There Shall Be Wars. Wagner, who drove a jeep and kept a diary, noted that he never really got to see the castle as the officers had set themselves up there when the war ended.

As it is Christmas, and we are thinking of Italy this morning, it seems appropriate to share Italy's favorite Christmas song, as sung by the great tenor Pavarotti.

Buon Natale a voi dall'Italia.
Which, translated, means... Merry Christmas to you from Italy.
(EdNote: Lest there be any confusion, I am not there today except in spirit.)

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