Rocchetta Mattei: The Most Unusual Building in Emilia-Romagna

Rocchetta Mattei
Surrounded by the Apennines, Rocchetta Mattei stands on top of a rocky rise.

Standing on a hilltop surrounded by the Apennine mountains about an hour from Bologna, Rocchetta Mattei strikes the visitor approaching it for its unique architectural style: a mix of medieval and Moorish elements, with golden, onion-shaped domes, minarets, square and cylindrical towers and turrets, unseen anywhere else in Emilia-Romagna.

Rocchetta Mattei was the residence of the count Cesare Mattei, an intellectual, a politician, a self-taught doctor, and the founder of  electro-homeopathy, a medical therapy based on re-establishing a balance between the two electric charges of the body to bring the area affected by an illness to a neutral state again, using herbal remedies (the supposedly therapeutic power of “electricity” in botanical extracts).

Electro-homeopathy became the most practiced alternative medicine from 1870 to 1930. Mattei claimed his method was the most effective in treating cancer without the use of surgery; even eminent people visited him at the Rocchetta, among them the Czar Alexander II. There were depositories with his herbal remedies all around the world. Mattei had become so famous that he was even cited by Dostoeveskji in his seminal novel The Brothers Karamazov.

Cesare Mattei was quite the character. Born in Bologna in 1809, he became interested in medicine after his mother died of a prolonged illness which caused her (and him) much suffering. He commissioned the construction of the Rocchetta Mattei in 1850; he chose the location based on the fact that the area is rich in iron, which works well with the electromagnetic field, but also because of the isolation of the rocky rise where the building stands. Mattei moved into the ‘small fortress’ as he affectionately called it (rocchetta) in 1859 and lived there until he died in 1896.

Visiting the Rocchetta Mattei

Rocchetta Mattei Emilia-Romagna
Rocchetta Mattei is the most unusual building you’ll see in Emilia-Romagna.

The complex of buildings forming the Rocchetta Mattei was built on a pre-existing structure dating from the Middle Ages and belonging to the emperor Frederick Barbarossa, in an area once controlled by the powerful countess Matilde di Canossa.

Rocchetta Mattei is full of symbolism, beginning with the entrance, which symbolizes light, i.e. recovery.  Nothing is there by chance; every element was studied and put in place to signify something else. The underlying message was: seek the truth beyond your senses, don’t stop at what you see.

According to some, in Mattei’s mind, the towers of the Rocchetta would correspond to the planets of the solar system, thus creating a relationship between the microcosm of the Rocchetta and the macrocosm of the outside world: an ill person entering the Rocchetta would later re-emerge healed.

What Not to Miss at the Rocchetta Mattei

what to see at Rocchetta Mattei
The Chapel inside the Rocchetta Mattei.

There are too many rooms, courtyards, passages, staircases, to be listed here; you’ll just have to visit for yourself! I have picked three that struck me the most:

  • Sala dei Novanta (Room of the 90), so called because Count Mattei had ordered its construction with the idea of holding a party once he reached 90 years of age with 90 people 90 years old (I told you he was quite the character). Unfortunately, he died before he reached 90 and never even saw the completed room, which was finished by his adoptive son Mario Venturoli Mattei.
  • Cappella (the Chapel), a breathtaking reproduction of the interior of Cordoba’s Mezquita (Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba in Spain) and its Moorish style.
  • Cortile dei Leoni (The Lions’ Courtyard), built to resemble the courtyard of the Alhambra in Spain’s Granada, again a nod to Moorish architecture.
Rocchetta Mattei
Cortile dei Leoni, built to resemble Spain’s Alhambra.

Both the Rocchetta and electro-homeopathy slowly began to decline after Mattei’s death. In 1968, the Mattei’s Labs in Bologna were permanently closed and production of Mattei’s remedies, which had been carried on by his heirs, terminated. Imitations, however, are still produced today.

Rocchetta Mattei fell into disrepair in the 1990s. In 2005, the Bologna-based Carisbo Foundation acquired the property and began restoring it; in August 2015, the Rocchetta was opened to the public for guided visits (parts of the structure are still under renovation and therefore closed to the public).

How to plan your visit of Rocchetta Mattei

Advance reservation is mandatory. Reservations can be made online at this link. Entrance fee is €10 (includes guided visit of about one hour and 15 minutes).

How to get there

By train: from Bologna train station, train line for Pistoia, get off at Riola, then it’s a 15/20-minute walk to the structure.

By car: from Bologna, Autostrada A1, exit at Sasso Marconi, take SS64 until you reach Riola, follow directions for Rocchetta Mattei.

*Or you can get there on foot from Silla, along ancient trails and a panoramic ridge, like I did 😉

Rocchetta Mattei
You’ll get beautiful views of the Apennines when you hike to the Rocchetta Mattei.

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