© Fabulorum. José Medio

There is a grandeur that makes Villa Pisani stand out form the rest of the villas of the Veneto. The country estates initiated by Palladio along the Brenta in the 16 century maintain an intimacy in their classical symmetry, that is conspicuously absent from the baroque design that the Venetian brothers Almorò and Alvise Pisani commissioned to the architect Girolamo Frigimelica.

Only 61 years after its construction, the majestic estate became protagonist of the political vicissitudes of the Veneto region and of the turbulent birth of Italy. Napoleon Bonaparte, Maria Anna, the Italian-born empress of Austria and successive occupiers, all engaged in leaving their imprint in this palatial dwelling. The backdrop of the villa as an historic stage continued intensely during the 20th century, when it witnessed the meeting of Hitler and Mussolini.

Ghostly statuary covers the borders of the pond or stand sentinel under the porticos of the ground floor as if the former residents insisted on coming back to a petrified life. The 11 hectares park and gardens give a sensation of floating above the ground, as if escaping their overwhelming destiny. I am always astonished at the tremendous force that a beautifully designed lanscape can exert on its immediate surroundings. The contrast between the ambitious architecture and the serenity of the park is striking. Among the orangery and the stables, a revelation awaits the visitor: the labyrinth or maze, a work of nine concentric circles of box hedges, complex and playful, with a destination at the center: the statue of Minerva on top of a turret with two spiral staircases. As the goddess of wisdom and magic, she confers her gifts on the victorious ones that reach the center. The ambiguous symbolism of the structure points to the path of the pilgrim or to a dangerous place of entrapment. Like all ancient myths, it nurtures a form of sacred mystery and acts like a coda to a place that, in spite of its charms, still seems to be searching for its soul.