The first foundation of the realm is dating back to the 1300s: it had the structure of a fort in defence of the Oltrepò (the southern part of the Po River). Its ownership was transferred from the Correggio Family to the Terzi Family until the end of the 1500s when it was given to the Sanvitale Family of Sala Bagaza, or better said, the wife of Giberto IV Sanvitale, Barbara Sanseverino, who restored it, turning it into a palace. Being enthusiast with arts, the Marchioness collected in this place many artworks of Tiziano, Correggio, Mantegna and Raffaello.
At the execution of the noblewoman, who was conjuring against Ranuccio I, the palace was transferred to the properties of the Ducal Family of Parma, the Farnese. The first wife of Ranuccio II (nephew of Ranuccio I), Margherita Violante of Savoia, started another renovation, even if the external aspect we can see today is due to the second-to-last Farnese Duke of Parma, Francesco, and to the Architect Ferdinando Bibbiena. After the sovereign of Antonio Farnese, Francesco’s brother, the whole Land was transferred to the Borbone Family: the Duke Carlo III, actually moved a lot of furniture and art collections to his palaces of Naples.
In 1749 the new Duke Filippo of Borbone, wanted to turn the Palace in a “Little Versailles” to please his wife, Luisa Elisabetta “Babet”, favourite daughter of Luis XV King of France. To do so, he mandated the French architect Ennemond Alexandre Petitot of a new restoration. We can see his work in the aspects of the palace more similar to the Realm of Versailles, such as the Honour Staircase and in the Great Room: this is a two level high room that still almost intact today and it separate the part of the palace addressed to the Duke from the part addressed to the Duchess. Huge mirrors were hanged on the walls, but they have been removed. In the external side, it was only added a staircase that takes to the park. Then the architect decided to settle down in the city of Parma, introducing many French-looking urban reforms.
After Filippo, the sovereign passed to Ferdinando of Borbone, who actually never really enjoyed being a duke: he actually had a religious vocation and, if he was not forced to become duke he would have surely become a monk. But as you know, even the life of the nobles is not all peace and light, especially when it comes to freedom of choice, so he was forced to get married. However, he lived a separated from his wife as she preferred to live in the casino of Sala Baganza. Therefore, he played the part of the Saint Francis and, scorning richness and luxury, he lived in a small apartment behind de big palace. Here he create a library and an astronomical observatory that we can still visit today. Moreover, he created a court oratory and a monastery for the Dominican connected with his apartment through a small corridor.
Ferdinando was the last Borbone and at his death, the land was annexed to France. With Napoleon, it became “Imperial Palace” and began restoration works up to my arrival. Because of my passion for nature, I wanted a French garden with floral decorations, statues and fountains. I placed the beautiful sculpture of me made by Antonio Canova in the Great Room, even if fortunately it was soon moved to the National Gallery of Parma.
After the Unita d’Italia the Realm passed to the Savoia, who were not very interested in making it a palace of the monarchy. So, they benefit from it by taking off the most of the furniture, parietal décor and statues from the garden. Imagine, for example, that the actual bureau of the President of the Italian Republic, at the Quirinale Palace in Rome, is made of French workmanship and comes from Napoleon’s time: it is very likely to come straight from the Realm of Colorno!
However, that was just the beginning of a long decadence time: in 1870, the Province of Parma bought the Palace, turning it into a Psychiatric Hospital, or, better said, asylum. This fact, as you can imagine, caused considerable changes and damages to the entire structure, beginning from the dismantling of the court theatre until the installation of bars on the windows. They rearranged many rooms as considered not suitable for the patients, while those few piece of furniture left disappeared for good. Fortunately not all the Palace was used as asylum, but mostly the rear part and the ex-monastery of the Dominicans: the most artistically important rooms became accommodations for the doctors and other employees of the hospital and this helped in keeping intact the pink marble of the floors and the frescos of the ceiling.
The asylum closed only in the Nineties of the 1900s and they tried to save what was left of the ancient beauty and greatness of the Realm. I am glad that since few years and after many restorations, the frontal part of the palace and the park have been opened to the public. The church of Saint Liborio stood intact and still used today for special occasions.
Every year are organized events and festivals at the Realm, such as concerts, fireworks in the park and one of the best buskers event: “All Mad about Colorno”!
In another part of the Realm (it doesn’t seems, but the palace has 400 rooms!) it has been opened the International School of Italian Cuisine ALMA, one of the best cooking schools all over the world, which welcome every year students future chefs coming from every nation.
The rear, next to the church, was abandoned and even if the entry is forbidden, the bravest ones still asking for special permits to go inside and take pictures of those thrilling room that brings the scars of a dark period of Realm’s history.