Villa Arconati, also known as Palazzo Arconati and popularly known as Castellazzo, is one of the historic villas of Parco delle Groane, located in the Castellazzo fraction of Bollate, which takes its name from it. This majestic eighteenth-century villa, in Lombard baroque style, has been declared a national monument and is described in ancient guides as the Italian Petite Versailles, given its size and grand style.
The villa was built by the will of Galeazzo Arconati, as a country residence and a place to host his precious collection of works of art and ancient sculptures. The palace consists of a series of harmonized architectural elements and covers an area of 10,000 square meters, divided into 70 rooms, with a total of 365 windows, according to a local legend. The palace’s park, which extends over 12 hectares of land, is another wonder of this place.
The origins of Villa Arconati complex probably date back to the Middle Ages when there was a “villa franca,” a fortified farmhouse that enjoyed particular privileges and fiscal exemptions of ancient institution, at the site of the future Castellazzo. The first information on the presence of a noble villa dates back instead to the second half of the sixteenth century when Marquis Guido Cusani committed to building a new local church dedicated to St. William, on commission of St. Charles Borromeo, who noted the excessive abandonment and inadequacy of the previous one. Inside the church, there is still a plaque with the inscription that remembers how it was completed in 1588, post aedificatam villam, a symptom that already at that time there must have been a property on site belonging to Marquises Cusani.
The property then passed into the hands of the noble Galeazzo Arconati in 1610, purchased from the Pio di Savoia brothers for a sum of 238,000 ducats. Galeazzo, passionate about architecture, intervened to restore the “casino da nobile” of Guido Cusani, later designing a first extension of the structure with the construction of a columned porch and the noble floor, partly exploiting the existing walls.
It was only after a trip to Rome in the year 1621 that Arconati had the brilliant insight to create a new grandiose palace in this place to enhance the wealth and power of his family, as well as a place to host the works of art he owned and display them to his guests. His new palace was inspired by the forms of the great Roman and Florentine villas, with tree-lined avenues, sculptures, and water features inspired by the studies of Leonardo da Vinci.
The villa was then completed under the direction of Count Luigi Maria Arconati, nephew and son-in-law of Galeazzo, who took care of the renovation of rustic courtyards and the modernization of the so-called “Castellazzino,” the oldest part of the manor. Furthermore, he built the large stables of the complex, capable of hosting sixty-four horses, also dedicating himself to the purchase of new lands and properties to increase the productivity of the Castellazzo estate and therefore the income.
The villa’s current design is credited to Count Giuseppe Antonio Arconati, who was inspired by the architecture he saw in Paris and at Versailles. He added the southwest wing and gave the west and new southern facades a late Lombard Baroque style. After architect Giovanni Ruggeri likely helped with the renovation from 1722 to 1729, Count Arconati took charge and continued the family tradition of overseeing the villa’s changes. The gardens were transformed from an Italian style to a French style and included a menagerie with exotic animals, which Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni noted when he was a guest of the Arconati family at Castellazzo villa. Other notable guests included sculptor Antonio Canova with artist Giuseppe Bossi in 1802, as well as writers Stendhal and Alessandro Manzoni. The villa has a total of 70 rooms and 10,000 square meters of living space, situated within 12 hectares of land. After Count Galeazzo Arconati’s death in 1772, his aunt’s family tried to sell the villa without success. Important restorations followed in 1840 by the behest of Marquess Antonio Marco Busca. The villa and the surrounding land were passed down to different heirs, and it currently serves as the headquarters of the Augusto Rancilio Foundation, which promotes various cultural and educational activities. The villa is open to the public on Sundays from April to December and is also used for private events.