The Castello di Brazzà-Habitat project

The aim of the owners Cécile Cornet d’Elzius and Corrado Pirzio-Biroli is to restore the original sheet to such a historically and environmentally interesting property, assigning it a major social-economic role. We are talking about the transformation of the 36 hectares of Castello di Brazzà into a multipurpose business, developing the property for tourism and cultural purposes, carrying out works to protect and optimise the agricultural-environmental heritage, landscape and fauna and maintaining a social-economic fabric active in the moraine hills of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. The project was drawn up in 2005 in collaboration with Professor Carlos Otero Muerza, Director of Istituto Ibérico para el Medio Ambiente y los Recursos Naturales (IIMA).

The project concerns the weaknesses in the territorial planning of the moraine hills of Friuli and seeks to help ensure the rebirth of the area, promoting rural tourism and giving a boost to the local economy through the production above all of services like clean water (the River Liule), pure air, hay and other organic products, fertility and biodiversity reserve and accessible space that is monitored and comes with a hunting ban. Instead of producing maize/corn and wine, as in the past, the property now produces “third generation agriculture” and, thereby, “landscape”. Incidentally, it is also hoped that the project may help protect the surface of the business around Castello di Brazzà from further family or economic fragmentation (in 1950, the property still comprised more than 300 hectares) and from new constructions that would be detrimental to the landscape.

The change really took place in 2002, when Cecile Cornet d’Elzius, Corrado Pirzio-Biroli’s wife, bought back the part of the property that had been removed in the war aftermath for reasons linked to inheritances. Just as Cora Slocomb, who had given new life to the family property with her husband Detalmo, Cécile too immersed herself in re-appropriating the habitat of the Castello di Brazzà area, both by restoring the damaged constructions, work that was completed in 2010, and by creating a demonstration agricultural-environmental nature area. The property restoration enabled the creation of accommodation to sleep 24, of an artistic-historic museum spreading out over three and a half floors, the Spazio Brazzà, and a children’s centre called the Centro Internazionale per la Cultura dell’Infanzia Štěpán Zavřel (Štěpán Zavřel International Study Centre for children’s culture), which was opened in 2011, as well as a garden featuring a great many different varieties of perfumed roses and hydrangea.

Amongst other aspects, the work carried out to protect and optimise the agricultural-environmental heritage and landscape involved the creation of a permanent meadow/lawn of leguminous graminacea and other essences for organic hay, the restoration of the biotope of the spring area and the catch basin of the River Liule, as well as the creation of a fauna hedge along the whole of the park edges, three leguminous areas (Operation Pollinator), twenty or so beehives, the safeguarding of various fauna vegetation islands and the restoration of an old roccolo/bressana (plant monument that served as a bird snare). This has enabled many of the original species of fauna that had disappeared over the years to make a successful return and has improved the overall ecological balance with, amongst others, roe deer, hares, pheasant, bats, dormice, birds of prey and frogs now being seen here again. An area has been set aside for a perfumed rose garden and hydrangea in different varieties, whilst another has been allocated as a paddock for use by the neighbouring horse riding school. Autochthonous and historic trees that had disappeared through disease, atmospheric agents or simply died of old age are currently being replaced and the restoration is planned of a lake basin (late 1800s), with the reconstruction of the banks and the outgoing dam, the preparation of a marked botanical route and the creation of a sculpture zone in the park, devoted to the children’s illustrated stories of Štěpán Zavřel and to works by Cécile Cornet d’Elzius. The park is also available to host temporary sculpture exhibitions.

Although it retains its very private nature, the environment is accessible to the public free of charge during the Giardini Aperti events and the Spazio Brazzà museums are also open during the International Museum Day. The museum is also accessible all year round by appointment.

The Brazzà Habitat project involves a master villa, two rural buildings – one for use as accommodation and both for cultural activities, two museums and, of course, the park:

The master villa Castello di Brazzà

17th-century villa which was set on fire during the Austrian occupation in 1918 and then rebuilt by Idanna di Brazzà on the basis of a project drawn up by the Palladian architect Provino Valle. Inhabited for a great many years by the Brazzà di Savorgnan family and, after Idanna’s marriage to the Olympic cavalry officer Giuseppe Pirzio-Biroli from the Pirzio-Biroli family, enjoyed renewed historical-social splendour thanks to the work of Fey von Hassell, Detalmo Pirzio-Biroli’s wife. It is now owned by Corrado Pirzio-Biroli and reserved for family use; it is currently undergoing conservative restoration works.

Casa delle Rose (alias, Casa di Antonio Brazzà – the home of Antonio Brazzà)

Built sometime between the 16th and 18th centuries, it was lived in after the war by Idanna Brazzà’s daughter, Marina Pirzio-Biroli and her husband Puccio Pucci (brother to the coutourier Emilio). When they separated, it was sold in the 1950s and suffered serious damage in the 1976 earthquake, thereafter mainly falling into disuse. It was then bought back in 2002 by Cécile Cornet d’Elzius, consort of Corrado Pirzio-Biroli to whom the rebirth of the property is owed, which is now used for cultural and tourism purposes.

The Spazio Brazzà museums

These are the historic Pietro di Brazzà Savorgnan museum and the Štěpán Zavřel art museum, which are housed in a 17th-century Venetian barchessa. With the 1976 earthquake having made it unsafe, the barchessa collapsed entirely in 2002. It had just been bought back by Cécile Cornet d’Elzius who ordered its restoration and assigned it for use as a museum and for artistic-cultural events. To this end, the Centro Internazionale di Studi per la Cultura dell’infanzia Štěpán Zavřel was created and the Štěpán Zavřel prize launched. Spazio Brazzà was officially opened by Councillor Roberto Molinaro and the Mayor Roberto Pirró on 30th September 2011. It is chaired by Cécile Cornet d’Elzius. Marina Tonzig is Art Director. Gina Van der Westhuizen is the Curator.

Brazzà park

Up until the Second World War, the park, that had been created by the grandmother, Cora Slocum, was part of a property that stretched over more than 300 hectares. It was a real paradise of biodiversity, in terms of both flora and fauna, filled with autochthonous and foreign dendrological species – particularly of North American origin – of which many remain. At the time, fauna included deer, roe deer, rabbits, dormice, beech martens, hares, red squirrels and foxes; birds included herons, swans, geese, ducks, barn, civet and other owls, woodcocks, pigeons, pheasants, thrush, doves and several species of song birds (as shown by the captures at the time of the snare (or bressana) of the park), in addition to birds of prey (falcons, buzzards and sparrowhawks), not to mention the bats, frogs, dragonflies, butterflies, crickets, cicadas and bees.

As from 1950 (sharecropping reform), the natural habitat and its biodiversity were gradually eroded for various reasons: hereditary divisions, economic difficulty experienced by the owners, intensive farming (particularly corn) with excessive use of chemical products and deterioration of the biotope of the River Liule, indiscriminate hunting (including poaching, using traps and nets) and the development of various illegal tips. Restoring the park, which had suffered greatly from neglect and a lack of civic sense in visitors, had become urgent in order to protect the landscape and wellbeing of the hilly area, despite the worthy maintenance work carried out by Corrado’s brother, Roberto – owner, amongst other parts, of the castle ruins and the family chapel – with the efficient help of the Campigotto brothers.