the history

Catajo Castle was built on orders of the Obizzi family, who originated from Burgundy  (France). In Italian history they are considered “soldiers of fortune” who arrived in Italy following emperor Henry II in 1007. In a time of peace, Pio Enea I Obizzi (who gave the name to the howitzer, a siege cannon, in Italian obice), attracted by the beauty of the Euganean Hills, decided to build a palace that would represent the glory of the Obizzi family, enlarging what previously was the maternal house built during the firts few decades of the 16th century, today known as Casa di Beatrice. The castle was designed by Pio Enea himself, aided by the architect Andrea Da Valle, and it was conceived as halfway between a military castle and a royal villa.
The most important part of the castle, called Castel Vecchio, was built in just three years, between 1570 and 1573, although many of the extensions were completed in the second half of the 19th century. The plan in the beginning was to just paint the external walls (now only partially visible), but in 1571 Pio Enea asked Gian Battista Zelotti, disciple of Paolo Veronese, to decorate the inside walls with beautiful paintings depicting the deeds of his family, creating one of the most spectacular fresco cycles of Venetian villas.

The Obizzi stock became extinct in 1830 after marquis Tommaso gave the castle to the heirs of the House of Este, Archdukes of Modena; the new owners Francis IV and Maria Beatrice of Savoia loved the castle and had the most visible wing to the north, Castel Novo, built to host the visiting Austrian imperial court. With the death of Francis V, who was childless, the castle was passed on to Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria. These last two owners were responsible for transfering the vast collection of archeological remains, musical instruments, weapons and paintings put together by the Obizzi to Vienna and to the Konopiste castle in Prague. After the First World War Catajo Castle was confiscated by the Italian government as war reparation. It was auctioned after the Great Depression of 1929 and bought by the Dalla Francesca family who resold it at the end of 2015. The castle is privately owned to this day.

THE PEOPLE

1516

The Obizzi family begins construction of ‘Ca’ sul Tajo’, the first nucleus of the present castle.

1542

Beatrice Pio Da Correggio, wife of Gasparo Degli Obizzi, transforms ‘Ca’ sul Tajo’ into one of the most important literary salons in northern Italy, attended by illustrious intellectuals such as Ludovico Ariosto and Sperone Speroni, who wrote “Alle Laudi del Catajo” while residing in the castle.

1570

Pio Enea I Degli Obizzi begins building Castel Vecchio, the nucleus of Catajo, and asks Giovanni Battista Zelotti to fresco the inside walls.

1592

Birth of Pio Enea II, born in the castle. He would later enlarge the castle by adding the Cortile dei Giganti, a courtyard in which theatre shows would be performed, transforming the courtyard in a real Italian renaissance garden; he also commissions the “Elephant Fountain”.

1654

On the night of 15th November, Lucrezia Dondi Dall’Orologio, wife of Pio Enea II, is assassinated in Padova. The “bloodstained rock” on which the marchioness was found dead got moved to the castle and rumors about the appearance of her ghost started.

1735

Charles III of Spain is a guest at the castle.

1745

The castle is rented out for three months to Francis III of Modena and Elizabeth Charlotte d’Orléans so that they can have a worthy dwelling during their period of thermal treatments at Abano Terme.

1801

Archduke Joseph, Palatine of Hungary, is a guest at the castle.

1803

On 3rd June the childless Tommaso Obizzi, last heir of the family, dies in the castle, thus ending the glorious 800-year history of the Obizzi lineage. The last marquis transforms the castle into what was one of the most important historic house museums in Europe at the time, which had 25 different collections with hundreds of pieces each.

1803

Tommaso Obizzi’s last will names Ferdinand I, son of Maria Theresa of Austria and brother of Marie Antoinette of France, as the sole heir. Having married the duchess Maria Beatrice d’Este, the last heir to the throne of Modena, the new Asburgo Este dynasty was born.

1816

After years of complications due to inheritance issues, Catajo becomes property of Francis IV Archduke of Modena who years prior had married princess Maria Beatrice Vittoria di Savoia, daughter of Vittorio Emanuele I.

1838

The emperors of Austria Ferdinand I and his wife Maria Anna di Savoia are hosted for four days in the castle. “Castel Nuovo” is built for this occasion and a magnificent party is held, with a celebratory ball, luminous settings, a firework display and a performance by musician and composer Franz Liszt.

1840

Maria Beatrice Vittoria dies from tubercolosis in the castle. Catajo had become her dwelling of choice, she preferred it even to the ducal palace of Modena. She was responsible for turning the castle into one of the most respectable ones in Europe.

1854

Following the civil uprisings in Modena, the archduke Francis V and his wife Adelgunde of Bavaria, cousin of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (Sissi), go into exile and chose to stay at Catajo. The first lootings start in this period and some of the collections are moved to Vienna.

1875

Duke of Modena Francis V dies and the heir is Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria who becomes the new owner of the castle, agreeing to the condition that he has to acquire the tile of Italian Prince and add the surname Este to the dynastic succession.

1914

After staying at the castle hunting deer, Franz Ferdinand of Austria leaves to go to Vienna and later embarks on his journey to Sarajevo where he will be later assassinated, on 28th June, marking the beginning of the First World War. A few years back, the archduke had transferred all the historic collections to Vienna and to the Konopiste castle in Prague.

1929

The castle is confiscated by the Italian government as war reparation and resold to the Dalla Francesca family, and many areas of the castle are transformed for the purpose of tobacco drying.

1964

Princess Margaret and her husband Lord Antony Snowdon are guests at the castle.

2015

The Cervellin family buys the castle through an auction sale and renovation work begins the year after.