History and Habitat
Castello di Brazzà (Brazzà Castle) is a small hamlet whose origins lie in the Middle Ages (Brakta Pagus). It is extremely interesting in historic terms, with the family chapel of St. Leonard, dating back to pre-10th century (fresco paintings from the 12th century), the castle of Brazzacco Superiore (originally Braitan), dating to the 11th-12th century, a master villa “Castello di Brazzà” of the 17th century (rebuilt after the 1918 fire by the Palladian Provino Valle), the home of Antonio Savorgnan (today called Casa delle Rose or Home of the Roses), dating back to the 15th-17th century and two 17th-century Venetian barchesse. The hamlet stands in a park more than a hundred years old, which was created towards the end of the nineteenth century by Cora Slocomb, the American wife of Detalmo di Brazzà, at the time the owner of Castello di Brazzà and brother of the explorer Pietro.
Castello di Brazzà was an established base for the Savorgnan family from the twelfth century. For centuries, it was the northern outpost of the Serenissima Republic of Venice and the original setting for the story of Romeo and Juliet. Recent studies by Prof. Clough, the most famous Shakespearean expert living today, have revealed that this castle was the real setting for the story of Juliet (Lucina Savorgnan), written by the seventeenth-century poet Luigi da Porto (Lucina’s cousin and suitor), who allegedly inspired the great English poet. Brazzà was then both the starting and resting point for the explorer Pietro di Brazzà Savorgnan, who gave an empire to France (French Equatorial Africa) and founded Brazzaville, today’s capital of the Congo-Brazzà. Later, during the First World War, it became the general headquarters of the Austrian forces (who accidentally caused the fire in the villa in 1918), in North-East Italy. It was then occupied by the German forces during the Second World War and by the allies (US Desert Force) at the end of that war, before finally becoming the residence of the commander of the Italian troops in the area, General Cordero di Montezemolo until 1948. In the past, Brazzà has received and offered shelter to the king (Victor Emmanuel III of Italy), governors, generals, ministers, ambassadors, writers and painters, refugees and the victims of persecution in Europe and beyond, recently, thanks to the owner Detalmo Pirzio-Biroli, becoming a crossroads of relations between Europe and Africa and coterie of university students.
The history of Castello di Brazzà and the Brazzà Savorgnan family has been described in various books, including Giulietta by Jacopo da Porto in the sixteenth century, Enchanters’ Nightshade and A Family of Two Worlds, Cottie O’Malley (writing under the pen name of Ann Bridge, Cora’s cousin) in the 1920s, the memoirs entitled Storia incredibile/I Figli Strappati by Fey von Hassell (translated into various languages, including in English with the title A Mother’s War), Il Fuoco dell’Anima/La Signora di Sing-Sing (about Cora di Brazzà) by Idanna Pucci and more recently Finestre e Finestrelle su Brazzà e Altrove by Detalmo Pirzio-Biroli. The epic deeds of Pietro di Brazzà are celebrated in twenty or so different biographies that have been written about the explorer, mainly in French, of which the first was entitled Brazza and written by his brother-in-law General of Chambrun in 1930, whilst one of the latest is Pierre Savorgnan de Brazzà, Prophète du Tiers Monde by Jean Autin, 1985; several biographies have also been written in English, including Brazzà of the Congo by Richard West and A Life for Africa by Maria Petringa, and others in Italian, of which the earliest was L’uomo che donò un Impero by his brother Francesco and the most recent Pietro Savorgnan di Brazzà esploratore leggendario (in both Italian and French), by his great grandson Corrado Pirzio-Biroli (2006).
The castle now stands as uninhabited ruins (although some allied officers did live there in 1945). The walls are currently being restored, making it basically inaccessible to the public for safety reasons. To a large extent, the rural buildings fell into disuse, abandoned and, after the 1976 earthquake, dangerous. The only one that has enjoyed uninterrupted residents was the master villa, historically referred to as “Castello di Brazzà”.
• Castelli Friulani, Storia e Civiltà, Edizione Magnus, 1997. Testi di Christoph Ulmer, foto di Gianni D’Affara, pp. 192-199
• Creating the Future of the Countryside. The European Estate, Edizioni Otero, Friends of the Countryside, pp. 504-513