La Rocchetta Mattei

Top choice in Emilia-Romagna

You'll find one of Emilia-Romagna's most fascinating and curious sights at this captivating hilltop castle 50km southwest of Bologna. La Rocchetta Mattei was the home of eccentric Italian homeopath Count Cesare Mattei, who invented a quack medical procedure called 'electro-homoeopathy' that, despite being considered total insanity by the medical and scientific communities then and now, had its share of believers and 'cured' cancer patients in the late 19th century when it was one of the most practiced alternative medicines.

Mattei's pseudoscience, however, brought him great wealth, resulting in the outlandish marriage of medieval Gothic and Moorish architecture that pervades throughout this labyrinthine castle in the Apennines. Jarringly mismatched rooms, winding staircases, striking courtyards (such as Il Cortile dei Leoni, or Lion's Courtyard, a recreation of the courtyard of the Alhambra of Granada in Spain) and a thoroughly mesmerising black-and-white-striped chapel (a reproduction of the interior of Cordoba’s Mezquita) are wildly out of place and well worth exploration. Moorish arches and turrets, onion-shaped domes and minarets feature prominently. After Mattei's death in 1896 (his tomb sits above the chapel), the castle bounced between various states of private ownership and abandonment (including being ransacked/occupied by both Nazi and American troops in WWII) before a 10-year restoration project saw it finally open to the public in 2015. To reach the castle (weekends only!), take a train from Bologna Centrale to Riola (€4.75) and walk the remaining 1.1km.

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