Castello Mina della Scala

Count Angelo and Ottone Persico Licer inherited the castle from their parents. The have now a comprehensive restoration plan for their unique property which is the only castle in Cremona province that is still fully and authentically furnished.

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Artiom Ganin has the privilege of talking with Counts Angelo and Ottone Persico Licer who own Castello Mina della Scala in Italy's Cremona province. Their family has owned the castle for the last 160 years. Interestingly the castle can still boast original furniture and is considered to be the only one in Cremona and the surrounding area which has the authentic furnishing! We've discussed the restoration plan and the findings the Counts made during several recent interventions. We've also talked about the ghost only seen by female members of their large family and about the accommodation affordable for guests with different levels of income.
Castles_and_Palaces (CnP): Why is the castle named this way - Castello Mina della Scala?
Count Angelo Persico Licer (APL): The Castle bears the name "Mina Della Scala" for over 160 years, after the union of the two families of our ancestors or the Mina family, who with the noble Augustus united in marriage in 1863 with Countess Francesca Della Scala got the two surnames, also giving the name to the Castle.

THE ONLY CASTLE IN CREMONA WITH AUTHENTIC AND FULL FURNISHING

CnP: Please tell me about your family - I know that your roots go down very far!
Count Ottone Persico Licer (OPL): With the marriage of our parents, the history of the Count Persico Licer of Venice also entered the castle, of which we belong and from which our father comes. The Persico are an ancient noble family established since 1600 in Venice and in the lands of the ancient Serenissima Republic of Venice, which became Venetian patricians and then counts of the Austrian Empire; various personalities of the family have held important civil and military positions over the centuries and even a Doge, Paolo Renier, was our ancestor. The surname just like our coat of arms is a derivation from the dialect, Persico in fact in ancient dialect means the Peach, the fruit, held in the hand by an angel in the coat of arms. Angelo is in fact one of the historical names carried by several members of the family over the centuries.
CnP: The castle looks so authentic with its 4 corner towers – one can imagine a proper and typical Italian fortress – is there something you are proud most of all?
APL: The complex is reminiscent of a military castle due to its towers and has always been used since its origins as a summer residence without defensive purposes. One thing we are very proud of as owners is the very strong link between our family history with the castle; we grew up here, our mother, our grandmother and our ancestors loved this house very much and there are so many memories here.
CnP: Still – if you look at the castle you would notice that certain parts of the facade lost their lustre as pieces of plaster are missing showing the brickwork. Any plans to renovate the building?
APL: Since the Castle passed from our parents to us, the new generation, we have started a long and demanding project of recovery and enhancement of the entire complex. It began with the recovery of the two entrance towers for receptive use and inaugurated in 2016. Then we moved on to the most important interiors, objects of study and rearrangement for the new route open to the public, the latter was inaugurated in spring 2017. In 2018 and 2019, interventions continued in the noble wing to expand the route to our visitors with the opening of new environments and also during the pandemic we worked on new projects. When it is possible, of course, we will intervene in the exterior of the Castle with the facades and the plaster. It is a demanding project, which requires time and a lot of resources.
OPL: A historic home needs constant care and maintenance and periodically various interventions are carried out, often not visible to visitors, but important for the Castle to continue to live for a long time. It is almost a daily commitment, to be taken care of every day, including the garden, which we manage directly.
CnP: Did you find anything particularly interesting during the interventions?
APL: Maintenance works are always an opportunity to discover something new or something that had never been noticed before. The latest refurbishment works of the noble interiors allowed us to show various furnishings and objects which were never exposed to the public before or which were stored elsewhere. We even had no idea some of these items existed - they are of course linked to the history of our family, such as the ancient uniforms of the servants, various personal items of our ancestors used for travel, all is very interesting.
CnP: What can you show to your visitors which other castles can't?
OPL: Without a doubt the atmosphere that reigns in the interior: our castle is nowadays the only one in our province and the surrounding area that is still fully furnished. Especially after the interventions starting from 2017, in all the environments that visitors can discover there are exhibited objects all completely original and belonging to our family, not only furniture, but also many relics and memories, such as vintage photographs, uniforms of the servants, china, travel souvenirs, works of art, all of which we and our ancestors used and experienced. It is not a "cold" museum, it is a place where you can take a real journey into the past. We care a lot and many visitors love the Castle for this very reason.

HOSPITABLE SHELTER DURING WWII

CnP: Do you live in the castle? Where?
APL: Yes, we live permanently all year round at the Castle. Our grandparents in the early 1900s completely modified the west wing, where the servants lived, in order to use it as private apartments for the owners. We live there now, even though our parents moved to the main noble wing of the castle every summer.
CnP: What's you most favorite part of the castle?
APL: It is difficult to make a ranking because every part of the Castle is linked to many memories but two of the favorite environments are the hall of coats of arms, a delightful living room with many objects and the wooden floor and the dining room, where we have rearranged the table set as it was used in the 1800s with cutlery, porcelain, tablecloths and much more. This brings us back to the lunches of many years ago with our family and always strikes the visitor too.
CnP: Is it expensive to maintain your castle (Stanislas de Blacas - the owner of the iconic Chateau d'Usse in France told me they spend the third of the revenues on its maintenance) – how much money do you allocate for the maintenance and where do you get it?
OPL: Maintaining a Castle is very expensive and demanding and it is not at all simple, it requires constant care and interventions which are often very expensive. Normally we think that we are just lucky to be owners, but this is not the case, we are certainly proud to guard this house and its history, but they must be preserved for future generations at best. This is why we allocate a large part of the revenues from the accommodation, from guided tours and events for this very reason.
CnP: Do the authorities help you in a way?
OPL: Unfortunately, the Ministry of Culture does not have enough funds and therefore has great difficulty in supporting the thousands of historic homes that exist in Italy, private historic homes that have been fighting for many years for more aid and support, in fact they have not yet been able to get the recognition they deserve.
CnP: Share a little known fact about the castle or from its history with me please – something which I will not find in books or on the Internet!
APL: It is something that is very little talked about and it is a very little known aspect but our family during the difficult period of the Second World War did everything to support and help the town of Casteldidone and its inhabitants, our kitchen and our doors were always open to help the poor, the needy, the people in difficulty, the castle was even a shelter for wanted people. It is a very important lesson for us.
CnP: You offer accommodation – but why in form of a hostel – and not a lavish exclusive hotel inside the castle?
APL: We have decided to differentiate the tourist and accommodation offer in the castle complex with proposals for all levels. The entrance towers house a hostel for groups, families, children, who with a simpler proposal can get closer to the Castle and the territory, while in the main complex, on the other hand, is suitable for more exclusive events. In the future we will also be able to include the possibility of staying in the Castle at a higher level.
CnP: Do you have a restaurant? What's you most extraordinary dish?
OPL: We do not have our own restaurant but we offer on the occasion of events that we organize tastings of the best local products such as wines and more, also in collaboration with restaurants in the area.

CnP: What are your relations with the locals? Do you employ them?
OPL: The Castle has always represented the fulcrum of the town of Casteldidone and the surrounding area. We hosted the first events and festivals of the town as early as 1970 and all the most important moments in the history of the town have always been hosted by us at the Castle. In its long history many people have worked at the Castle, as members of the servants and in more recent times with other duties.
CnP: What kind of events do you hold?
APL: In addition to the classic guided tours we also organize evenings with tastings of typical products, theatrical performances, concerts, theatrical guided tours, conferences and cultural moments. The castle is also available as a location for events, weddings and photo books. In the past we have hosted for many years the "Melon Festival". It is a typical product of Casteldidone which attracted famous artists and thousands of people. In the recent times, for example, the guided theatrical tours animated with actors in period costume in the rooms have been very successful of the Castle.
CnP: Which of the cultural events evokes the strongest emotions in you?
OPL: One of the most indelible memories was when a few years ago we hosted the show that featured the internationally renowned dancer Carla Fracci. Seeing such a famous and unique artist perform live at our Castle was truly a great emotion.
CnP: Now – I was fascinated to learn that you have your own ghost – it is quite rare that castle owners tell me they have ghosts as strange as it may seem. Tell me about your ghost please?
OPL: Yes, we have what we call a "presence" at the Castle. The story is something that has been handed down in our family for generations; the legend has it that it is the spirit of one of the countesses Schizzi, of the first family who built the castle and owned it. She was left alone during the plague epidemic of the 16th century and died in solitude. It is her spirit.
CnP: I see, there was even an investigation by a TV crew – they should have found something – otherwise they did not have anything to show to the viewers! So what did they find?
APL: Two crews who are involved in research on the paranormal have come to the Castle. The first one was "Hesperia" in 2016, which found various "anomalies" in the area of the grand staircase, the other one was HHMT in the 2020 and early 2021, which is still analyzing the findings.

CnP: Have you personally seen the ghost?
OPL: No, not personally, this "presence" has always appeared only to the women of the family, in fact there were several episodes told by our mother, but also by our grandmother Fanny and great-grandmother.
CnP: Pope Benedict XV also known as Giacomo Della Chiesa is linked to the castle in a way – could you tell me about this connection?
APL: The bond with Pope Benedict, Pontiff of the Catholic Church from 1914 to 1922, is very strong, in fact we are direct great-grandchildren of the Pontiff who was our ancestor, our great-grandmother, Countess Giulia Persico Della Chiesa, was in fact the Pope's favorite sister Blessed. Throughout her life he has collected and preserved many original relics that belonged to her brother, which we still jealously guard here at the Castle and which are partly exposed to the public. The Pontiff is a very present and very important figure in our family, and several members bear the name Benedict.
OPL: You know the main wing of the Castle, where the most beautiful and sumptuous rooms are located, is used as a sort of "House Museum". This whole part, especially after the interventions in 2017, has been officially reopened to the public with a new path of visit. We have several historically valuable objects such as some 16th century paintings and porcelain, the oldest pieces now preserved in the Castle, but also objects that belonged to Pope Benedict XV, which are undoubtedly very precious.
CnP: You do offer guided tours – what do you show to your guests?
APL: Certainly, guided tours are one of the activities that engage us the most. Visitors, accompanied by our guides, have the opportunity to discover the life and environments of an ancient noble historic residence, as we have already said it is a matter of a real journey through time where we illustrate the history of the Castle, the legends, but also stories about the owners' families and the works of art that are present.
CnP: Which Italian castles do you find beautiful – what's your favorite one apart from your own castle?
OPL: It is a question that is not easy to answer, Italy is full of beautiful residences and castles, among many for example the fortress of Gradara is really very beautiful and the Castle of Rivalta in the province of Piacenza, which we know very well and of which we have warm memories. We visited the owners, the Count Zanardi Landi very often.
CnP: You don't feel from time to time that you would like to sell the castle and move to a smaller property which is easier to maintain, do you?
APL: Maintaining a structure like our Castle is certainly not easy, it involves a lot of effort, it would certainly be easier to leave everything behind and live in a smaller and easy-to-manage house, but here is our history, our roots are here and as long as we can we will try to look after our Castello.

CnP: What would you tell those dreamers who would like to buy a castle and restore it to former glory and make it their residence or a lavish hotel?
APL: You need a lot of passion and love for the place, it is a real daily challenge, but if you love these houses it is a challenge worth trying!
We very much hope that you loved the story told by Counts Angelo and Ottone Persico Licer who own Castello Mina della Scala in Italy's Cremona!

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