Today the splendid complex of Colorno, that after the Unification of Italy was converted into an asylum and later abandoned, has reacquired its majestic identity thanks to a thorough restoration and the recreation of its mid-18th century parterre.
A first substantial transformation of the 15th-16th-century residence of the Sanseverino family was carried out between the 17th and the 18th century by Duke Francesco Farnese: under the direction of Bolognese architect and scenographer Ferdinando Galli Bibiena, the Duke’s palazzo was turned into a sumptuous suburban residence; in 1697 the garden started to take shape with its statues, parterres, fountains (including the Proserpina and Trianon fountains by Giuliano Mozzani today in Parma’s Parco Ducale), water features, and automata (with Jean Baillou’s hydraulic technology). The splendid engravings of the Delizia farnesiana a Colorno (1726) are a testimony to this phase. With the extinction of the Farnese family in 1731 and the subsequent rule of the Borbone in the Duchy, the garden underwent a radical “French style” transformation, which had already started during the Farnese period thanks to the contribution of Ennemond-Alexandre Petitot and Versailles-gardener François Anquetil “De Lisle”. Under the French rule, in 1807 Reggia di Colorno was declared “imperial palace” and, after the Restauration, the Austrian Duchess of Parma Marie Louise chose it as her favourite residence, initiating in 1816 a transformation of the garden into a park infused with Romantic aesthetics. At her side in this project was Karl Barvitius, President of the Botanical Society of London who can be credited for the introduction of rare plant species such as the Zelkova carpinifolia, currently still growing in the park. It was during this phase that the small lake with the Isola dell’amore (Island of Love) was created, and the violet and exotic fruit greenhouses installed. After years of neglect, following the Unification of Italy and World War II, Reggia di Colorno became property of the Province of Parma: between 1998 and 2000 the parterre was reinstated based on Anquetil’s project. Delimited on both sides by hornbeam galleries, its arches frame beautiful views of the parterre and the Reggia.
In keeping with Anquetil’s project, the first section of the “parterre” is divided in four symmetrical quadrants delimited by low boxwood hedges and large citrus tree vases and a circular fountain at the centre; further on there are two other areas, also surrounded by hedges, each with large fountains.
The Chapel of San Liborio
Designed by Pietro Cugini, the chapel was built between 1775 and 1777. Of note are the “tribuna ducale”, a gallery with seating for the Duke, with a narrow passageway leading to his “Appartamento nuovo” private rooms, and an organ crafted by Giuseppe Serassi between 1792 and 1796. With its set of 2898 pipes it is still working today.
The Astronomical Observatory
The “Appartamento nuovo” area, Duke Ferdinando di Borbone’s private rooms, contains a remarkable Astronomical Observatory with an unusual anemometer consisting of an external revolving part connected with a pole to a compass rose set indoors at the centre of the vault, with an arrow indicating the direction of the wind.
Extended during the mid-18th century, it contains magnificently decorated rooms including the Gran Sala designed in 1753 by Ennemond-Alexandre Petitot.