Castello Mina della Scala

Run by the Counts Angelo and Ottone Persico Licer the castle is the only one in Cremona and its surroundings which is fully and authentically furnished.

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Artiom Ganin has talked with Counts Angelo and Ottone Persico Licer who together own Castello Mina della Scala in Italy's Cremona. The Сounts who inherited the castle from their parents have recently launched large-scale restoration and repair works as the historical property needs great deal of attention. The castle has been in their family's ownership for the last 160 years and is totally authentic. The owners say their beloved Castello is nowadays the only castle in the province of Cremona and the surrounding area which is still fully furnished. We've talked about what it takes to maintain the historical property they hold so dear and why they have chosen to offer accommodation affordable for all.
Castles_and_Palaces (CnP): Why is the castle named this way - Castello Mina della Scala?
Count Angelo Persico Licer (APL): The Castle has been named "Mina Della Scala" for over 160 years. It happened after the union of the two families of our ancestors: the Mina family, who with the noble Augustus united in marriage in 1863 with Countess Francesca Della Scala. Two surnames united also giving the name to the Castle.

A RARE FULLY FURNISHED CASTELLO

CnP: Please go on - tell me about your family!
APL: 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 in the 1600s in Venice and in the lands of the ancient Serenissima Republic of Venice. They 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 Doge Paolo Renier was our ancestor. The word "Persico" in fact in ancient dialect means the Peach, the fruit, held in the hand by an angel in our family's coat of arms. Angelo is also one of the historical names carried by several members of the family over the centuries.

Count Ottone Persico Licer (OPL)
: Our family bought the castle in May 1859 and we are the sixth direct generation that owns and lives in it.
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?
OPL: 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 the 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 façade lost its 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, to then move on to the most important interiors, object of study and rearrangement for the new path open to the public, the latter inaugurated in spring 2017. In 2018 and 2019, interventions continued in the noble wing to expand the path to 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 then move on to interventions on the exterior of the Castle with the facades and the plaster. It is a demanding project, which requires time and a lot of resources.
APL: A historical 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 an almost 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 restoration works?
OPL: Maintenance works are always an opportunity to discover something new or something that had never been noticed before. For example, the latest refurbishment works of the noble interiors allowed us to place various furnishings and objects that have never been exposed to the public before. They were in the deposits - various pieces we did not know even existed! They are linked with the history of our family, such as the ancient uniforms of the servants, various personal items of our ancestors used for travel, all of them are very interesting.
CnP: What can you show to your visitors which other castles can't?
APL: Without a doubt the atmosphere that reigns in the interior: ours is today the only castle 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. We show them objects which are all completely authentic. They do belong to our family - not only furniture, but also many relics and memories, such as vintage photographs, uniforms, porcelain, travel souvenirs, works of art, all of which we and our ancestors used and experienced. It is not a cold museum but rather a place where one can take a real journey into the past. We care a lot and many visitors love the Castle for this very reason.

ACCOMMODATION FOR ALL

CnP: Do you live in the castle? Where?
OPL: Yes, we live permanently all year round in the Castle. Our grandparents in the early 1900s completely modified the west wing, where the servants inhabited, in order to use it as private apartments for the owners where we live, 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 spent 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 the 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 the owners, but this is not the case, we are certainly proud to guard this house and its history, but the castle must be preserved for future generations at its best. This is why we allocate a large part of the revenues from the accommodation, from our guided tours and events for this very reason.
CnP: Does the authorities help you in a way?
APL: Unfortunately, the Ministry of Culture does not have enough funds and therefore has great difficulty in supporting the thousands of historical homes that exist in Italy, private 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 during the difficult period of the Second World War our family did everything to support and help the town of Casteldidone and its inhabitants. Our doors were always open to help the poor, the needy, the people in difficulty, we even gave shelter to 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?
OPL: We have decided to differentiate the tourist and accommodation offers in the castle complex with proposals for all levels. So we have a hostel for groups, families, children in the entrance towers. A simpler proposal can get them closer to the Castle and the territory. At the same time, the main complex can host exclusive events. In the future we will also be able to include the possibility of sleeping in the castle at a higher level.
CnP: Do you have a restaurant? What's you most extraordinary dish?
APL: We do not have our own restaurant but we do offer on the occasion of events tasting sessions of the best local products such as wines and more. We do it in collaboration with local restaurants.
CnP: What are your relations with the locals? Do you employ them?
APL: 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. All the most important moments in the history of the town have always been hosted by us at the Castle. Throughout its long history many locals have worked at the Castle.
CnP: What kind of events do you hold now?
OPL: 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 events. The castle is also available as a location for events, weddings and photo books. In the past we hosted the "Melon Festival". This festival attracted famous artists and thousands of people. In more recent times, for example, the guided theatrical tours animated with actors in period costume in the rooms have been very popular.
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 saw the presence of 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: The story of a "presence" at the Castle is something that has been passed down in our family for generations. The legend says 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 16th epidemic of plague. She died in solitude and her spirit is still present today here.
CnP: Is she a good spirit?
APL: We really think so, in fact it has never bothered any of us. Two crews who are involved in research on the paranormal have come to the castle. The first one is "Hesperia". The were her in 2016 and found various "anomalies" in the area of the grand staircase. The other one is HHMT who came here in 2020 and early 2021. They are still analyzing the findings.
CnP: Have you personally seen the ghost?
OPL: No, not personally, this "presence" has always appeared only to females, in fact our mother saw the ghost several times. Our grandmother Fanny and great-grandmother saw the ghost either. Today the owners are two males, me and Count Angelo.
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 his life he has collected and preserved many original relics that belonged to his 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 among the various first names.
CnP: Do you have a castle museum and if so what's the most precious item in it?
OPL: 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: Do you have mechanism from the old times which still operate?
APL: We have many objects that have always been used in the castle, the many ancient fireplaces are still functional, the bell linked to the ghost is still functional and various pendulum clocks.
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: Are all premises open for public?
APL: We offer visitors a wide and varied itinerary that covers a large part of the ground floor and the first noble floor of the Castle, where all the most beautiful and interesting rooms are located that are already open to the public. In the last three years, with other interventions, the visit has been extended again and today there are about 15 rooms that can be visited.
CnP: Which Italian castles do you find beautiful – what's your favorite one apart from your own castle?
APL: 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 fond memories during various visits to the owners, the Count Zanardi Landi.
CnP: You don't fell 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?
OPL: Maintaining a structure like a Castle is certainly not easy and involves a lot of effort, certainly it would certainly be easier to leave everything and live in a smaller and easier to manage house, but here is our history, there are our roots and as long as we can we will try to keep it.
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: I would tell them that 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 to try!
We very much hope that you loved the story told by Counts Angelo & Ottone Persico Licer who own Castello Mina della Scala in Italy!

All images belong to @Castello Mina della Scala
Photo credits: Pietro Diotti, Fabio Maruti, Paolo Azzoni, Chiara Lena

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