Casa del Podestà in Lonato: a villa museum, or rather a library-house with more than 50,000 books.
A secret address for true book lovers
A house "open to the sun, to friends, to guests"
"This house is open to the sun, to friends, to guests": with her thin, smiling lips, calm and wrapped in her fur scarf, hat and hand muff, Maria Glisenti looks at us, seemingly inviting us into her home.
Maria Glisenti was the wife of Ugo da Como, the man who saved one of the most beautiful villa museums of our land from ruin.
This fall we went to the Casa del Podestà to hear their story told by our friend Stefano Lusardi, the curator of the museum, who took us on a journey through time, among the books of incredible value.
Before men-at-arms and sixteenth-century frescoes
Perhaps it's only a hint of the place, a ghost of the past, but you can almost hear the footsteps, the presence of Maria Glisenti, together with that of her husband, in the rooms of the Podestà's house. As soon as we take the big key that Stefano offers, we turn the lock and open the door, and the past seems to come back to life in an instant.
Men-at-arms with their sixteenth-century armor seem to grimace as if they are asking us what we are doing there: they are imposing and proud, they emerge and tower over the room. They are fragments of a fresco attributed to one of the most important Brescian painters, Girolamo Romanino, who painted them in 1515.
All around are heraldic coats of arms and large chests, which hide the most precious treasure of all: books, of which the house, as we will soon realize, is full.
Pulled from obscurity: the rebirth of the Casa del Podestà
A small door leads us into a small room where we can imagine Ugo Da Como, collector, politician, intellectual, with his moustache, sitting at his desk intent on studying his beloved books on the history of Brescia, episodes and chapters that he tried to pull from the obscurity of time, as he had done with the Casa del Podestà, the villa he then lived in. The great house of 1400's was the seat of the Podestà, the representative of Venice, who governed on behalf of the Serenissima, after Napoleon, risked falling into ruin; first under Austria it was made it into barracks and then after given back to the local municipality it was abandoned.
But because of those people who love history and historic homes, that place was saved from being lost; and so Ugo da Como restored it completely, recalling the atmosphere of the 1400's, furnishing it with period furniture, enriching it with books, bringing it back to a splendor perhaps even greater than that which this house had previously known.
Lounges and drawing rooms, between paintings and the friend Cicero
A succession of doors, which one after the other reveal beauties, secrets, antiquated trinkets, furniture of bygone eras, paintings, portraits.
In the large red room we sat on the sofa and had a coffee with Stefano Lusardi, the curator of the Casa del Podestà. Stefano immersed us in the history of the house, its owners, and the secrets it had to reveal. And while we were there among the paintings, the bust of Cicero that seemed to smile at us, the lioness, the coat of arms of Brescia right there on the floor; it was as if we were waiting, as if Ugo da Como and Maria, his wife, were going to appear at any moment.
Because this is exactly the feeling that this villa museum gives you: that the owners of the house were only gone for a moment.
From the red room, we moved on to the delightful little blue living room, Maria Glisenti's refuge, where at every hour of the day the light filters through the windows in a different way and provides a view of the garden from three sides.
You can feel the peace that Maria felt, sitting on the blue sofa, reading, embroidering or simply letting the beauty from the garden enter in. A feeling of calm and serenity caught us while we were looking at the furniture, the paintings, and the coffered ceiling with the ceiling panels incorporating faces in profile together with fantastic animals, dating back to the middle of the 15th century, which were purchased by Ugo da Como.
This must be the magic and charm of the villa museum.
Dining rooms, fireplaces and "dragon's blood"
We walked through the antique room with its apothecary pots and antiquated ceiling, where the profiles of renaissance lords seem to follow you with their eyes.
You never feel lonely in the Podestà's home.
On the shelves we lingered to read the inscriptions on the vases, — certainly the "dragon's blood" with its evocative name, is something you don't forget.
As we enter the dining room we see the chessboard, ready for a game, and the French windows overlooking the garden. We then continue to the dining room, the kitchen, and then upstairs to the bedrooms where we understand even better why this is not only a villa museum, but also a library-house.
Books are everywhere, from the shelves to the drawers; opening them you can find yourself walking through the gardens of Paris or ancient Egypt, among flowers and plants, through unique architecture. This is the power of books, you open them and they catapult you into another world. So you understand that here at the Casa del Podestà, the journeys you can take are endless. "If you have a garden with a library, you won't lack anything": the large library
Separated from the rest of the house, with its beautiful fireplace, the table in the middle and the benches on the walls, the main library is a place where you would like to stay for days to read.
From the gallery, rows of books stare out at you, meanwhile you can gaze at the world's smallest book or the first illustrated version of the Divine Comedy.
By the fireplace, Cicero's famous phrase reminds us "If you have a garden with a library, you will lack nothing." And while Stefano places little books of poetry in our hands and we leaf through antiquated volumes, and look at the Divine Comedy, every now and then our eye escapes to the garden outside, and we can't help but think that Cicero is right. Visiting the Casa del Podestà
The Casa del Podestà is truly an incredible villa museum: from the start of the visit you will be pleasantly overtaken by the strong sensation of taking a trip back in time, and if you are a book lover, this house will definitely become one of your favorite places to get lost in.
When we visited the house we were lucky enough to have a special guide like Stefano Lusardi, the curator of the museum. He utilizes a participatory storytelling approach that is truly unique.
That's why, if you want to visit the Casa del Podestà, you can have this exceptional guide Stefano at your side. Ask our staff at the reception who will take care of organizing your journey through time at the Casa del Podestà, from the guided tour to, if necessary, the transportation.