This English-style park (4 ha) is home to an impressive collection of trees and shrubs. Nature is used to create a scene of harmony which is made to appear as natural as possible despite its artistic design. This is evident both in terms of the use of exotic plant species and especially in the creation of seemingly natural curved paths and trails throughout the park. The park includes tree species (60 varieties) from America and from the cold and temperate zones of Europe and Asia. Also well represented are native species with majestic specimens of oak and beech trees.
When life on the plain of the Tiber River is somehow lethargic in the heat of the Umbrian summer, this estate on the top of Arnato hill still refreshes visitors with cool breezes in the shade of its old trees.
But it was also a place for fresh ideas which revolutionized the educational system: Maria Montessori lived and worked here for two years (1901-1902), testing and developing her teaching methods. At that time, the villa hosted Montesca elementary school, which gave free access to peasant children up to the sixth grade.
The house and park were built (between 1985 and 1889) for Baron Leopold Franchetti, who moved to Città di Castello in 1880. The building was based on the design by Florentine architect Giuseppe Boccini and was inspired by the Renaissance and by Mannerism. It was Alice Franchetti Hallgarten, the American wife of Senator Leopoldo Franchetti and a well-educated woman with a philanthropic spirit, who invited Maria Montessori.
The site for the villa and park was well chosen as it affords sweeping views of the upper reaches of the Tiber and the nearby Città di Castello. It is the typical landscape of the Valtiberina (the Tiber valley) with gentle hills, the cultivated plain and woodland. The complex also includes the former caretaker’s house, the orangery and guesthouse.
In front of the villa, the green open space with its large decorative basin forms a perfect transition to the landscape park and its arboretum.
This English-style park (4 ha) is home to an impressive collection of trees and shrubs. Nature is used to create a scene of harmony which is made to appear as natural as possible despite its artistic design. This is evident both in terms of the use of exotic plant species and especially in the creation of seemingly natural curved paths and trails throughout the park. The park includes tree species (60 varieties) from America and from the cold and temperate zones of Europe and Asia. Also well represented are native species with majestic specimens of oak and beech trees. Many trees and plants are labelled to show their names and uses.
Today’s dense vegetation is a mix of tall trees from the initial planting and some vegetation and trees which have grown spontaneously in the specific climatic conditions of the hillside. An additional two hectares are used as coppiced wood. Ongoing restoration – planned until 2015 – aims at reinstating clear structures and opening up lines of sight while maintaining the unique character of the landscape park.
Close to the park entrance and half-hidden on the right in the woods below the villa is the start of a path which follows the gently rising and falling hill slopes and offers visitors views into the countryside as well as an opportunity to explore the site, including the lower section of the park with its semi-natural forest.
While the beginning of the path still exists in its original state – finely decorated with a mosaic of pebbles of various colours forming distinct geometrical shapes – more sections have recently been restored according to the original design.
The villa, now owned by the Umbria Region, has retained both its elegant interior and its educational orientation. It hosts a centre for education, training and research, with a focus on the environment, culture, lifelong learning and public administration.
Visitors should not forget to see another inspiring place upon their return to the plains: the “Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini” runs a museum with the work of the abstract painter and sculptor Alberto Burri, born in Città di Castello. The museum combines the Palazzo Albizzini and some modern extension buildings to create a pleasing ensemble. No doubt Maria Montessori would have loved this spot too.
Parco di Villa Montesca
06012 Città di Castello
Owner: Regione Umbria
Entrance fees: Free entrance
Opening times: All year
- Toilet: yes
- Parking: Free parking about 200 metres from main entrance
- Map of the garden: PDF
- Labels on plants: yes
- Benches: yes
- Accessibility: The main trails are accessible for people with reduced mobility, but with some uneven surfaces