A little while ago, the company I worked for organized the annual meeting with all the associates. They asked some of us to lend a hand hosting it. I obliged if only to have a chance to go inside the location of the event.
San Secondo is linked to the name of a great family, the Rossi who during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance has been able to express themselves at the highest political and military levels, as revealed reading ancient texts quoting important and significant references. The Rossi “buy” San Secondo in 1365 with Giacomo and Bertrand and they are invested through an imperial bull of feudal rights.In the first half of the fifteenth century, a great family member, Pier Maria II called the Magnificent, sets the stage – in Parma – of what should have been a modern state in Renaissance era, as he scattered with castles and fortresse the valleys from the Apennines to the Po river. Many of these fortresses still exist today – from Torrechiara to Corniglio, from San Secondo to Roccabianca. In 1499 Giovanni de ‘Rossi and his son Troilo I are resettled in San Secondo (after losing it to the Sforza in Milan) by King Louis XII of France, who on August 15 of 1502 confirms the apponitmente of “castellum Sancti et oppidum secundi “and elevates the county to Marquisate. After centuries of ups and downs, battles won and lost, marriages with the most important families of Europe, the Rossi of San Secondo House expires in 1825.
The Rocca of the Rossi of San Secondo, in its full splendor in the Renaissance time, and even in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was an imposing structure of trapezoidal form. “Great and magnificent, with twenty-four feet thick walls from top to bottom, made up of four solid ramparts defended by its half-moons with a ‘maschio’ in the middle, thirty-six feet solid and without any earth it was surrounded by big walls with seven ramparts”, San Secondo’s castle in the description of Gerolamo Rustici, a Piacentine poet belonging to the court of Pier Maria II Rossi; and this written image corresponds to the one painted on the ceiling of the fabulous ‘Camera d’oro’ of Torrechiara, where Gerolamo Bembo gathers in a triumphant affrescoe all the fortresses which rebelled during the Rossi feuds.
The Rossi castle was decorated in extravagant style, with frescoes by the best artists of the time, in order not to appear inferior to the new lords of Parma, the Farnese. Only the northwest wing and the northeast façade remain of the 16th century structure. During the last part of the 19th century, a large part of the castle was destroyed. The beautiful Renaissance courtyard, the main staircase and the reception hall, and the frescoes on the noble level are all that is left today.
The Hall of Bellerofonte (below), beyond the courtyard and the main staircase, this grand hall houses the most important equipment of the San Secondo Palio. On the ceiling, a fresco of Bellerofonte killing the chimera, a monster with the heads of a lion, a dragon and a goat, representing the fight between the Good and the Bad.
Numerous friends and important relatives of the Rossi Family are portrayed in the medallions in Adone’s Hall. These include Gian Girolamo Rossi, Bishop of Pavia and Governor of Rome, Renaissance writer and poet, Federico Gonzaga II of Mantua, Giovanni de Medici, called Giovanni of the Black Bands, the most impportant and the best loved.
Caesars’ Hall and the Hall of the Golden Donkey hold the oldest illustrations Pier Maria III had painted. The Hall of the Golden Donkey has 17 paintings from a story by Apuleius entitled “The metamorphosis of the golden donkey”. No other paintings illustrating the famous latin novel are known to exist. The story begins on the bottom strip, over the western door and moves counterclockwise around the room. It continues in the upper strip and concludes at the center of the vault.
The Hall dedicated to the Rossi Family’s Military Prowess (and where the conference was held) is a majestic, imposing room with more than 12900 sq.ft. of frescoes. Between grotesque and allegories stand thirteen very large tapestries depicting prominent episodes of the family from 1199 up to the time of Pier Maria III, father of the customer. The series of episodes begins with the picture at the right of the fireplace, it continues on the walls clockwise and ends with the thirteenth scene painted on the vault. Four caryatids, the four seasons, the passage of time, support the big vault, where can be admired the allegory of fame and glory, to magnify the power and honor of the great Pier Maria III; monochromes on the walls representing all of the jobs and trades, meaning that only the work can raise the social status of men; a big band with silenced weapons, at the base of the vault, remembers that only in peacetime it’s possible to give free rein to artistic works; the lion of St. Mark, the ideal union of affections, culture, interests. The superb chimney in red and white marble, the molding plaster with the coat of arms, complete the architectural and artistic work commissioned by Troilus Rubeus Comes II (Count Troilo Rossi II).
At the end of the event, obviously it was time for a little coffe break…..after all we live in what they call “the food valley”…