Rochetta Mattei – Bologna’s Fantasy Castle

Rochetta mattei Bologna castle

A short side trip to “Rochetta Mattei” is a very interesting way to spend a day whilst in Bologna.

The Rochetta, or little fortress, was built by Count Cesare Mattei on the ruins of an ancient castle.

Rochetta mattei ca. 1880
Rochetta Mattei ca. 1880 (Wikimedia)

Cesare Mattei was born into a wealthy Bolognese family in 1809. Cesare’s grandfather Andrea had lifted the family from poverty to great prosperity through astute use of land rights granted to long term peasant farmers and by subsequently establishing a shop in Bologna. They were accepted into society and Cesare’s father Luigi married Teresa Montignani who came from a well-to-do Bolognese family.

cesare mattei
A young Cesare Mattei (

Mattei had a successful career in business and politics. He was made a Count by the Pope in 1847 for services to the Papal States.

His mother suffered from a long and painful illness and she died from a tumour in the breast in 1845. Deeply affected by this, Cesare dedicated himself to finding a cure for cancer for which there was no known treatment.

In 1850 he bought the ruins of an ancient castle and built a ‘rochetta’ or little fortress on the site.  Work on the castle continued on and off for the rest of his life.

rochetta mattei bologna
View from a window of the castle

There are three main stylistic influences. Firstly there is that of Moorish architecture which had greatly impressed Mattei during his only trip overseas in 1851 to visit the World’s Fair in London.

Rochetta Mattei
An example of Moorish influence in the Rochetta
Lion fountain rochetta mattei
The Lion Fountain and courtyard was inspired by the Alhambra

The second stylistic influence is medieval.

Rochetta mattei scuplture
An example of medieval influence

And finally there is an Art Noveau aspect introduced by Mattei’s adopted son, Mario Venturoli, in the 1900s.

Rochetta mattei bologna
An internal Staircase

In his search for a cure from cancer, Mattei built on the work of the German Christian Hahnemann who had invented homeopathy some 50 years earlier, coming up with something he called electro-homeopathy. This involved a secret process for preparing  medicines from various herbs. This treatment became very popular and he opened stores around the world to sell his products. Also patients, including it is rumoured the Russian Tsar, arrived for treatment and stayed in the castle.

Mattei electro homeopathy
Mattei’s Electro-homeopathic treatments (Wellcome Collection)

Mattei believed that fermented plants gave off ‘electrical’ energy that could be used to cure illness. He personally prepared the medicines in the castle.

Mattei electro homoeopathy
An advertisement for Mattei’s remedies (Wellcome Collection)

Mattei never married and was planning to leave his estate to his brother’s son, Luigi. However, he disinherited Luigi as his profligate ways threatened to bankrupt the family. He formally adopted his assistant Mario Venturoli and nominated him as his heir. Mattei later also disinherited Mario, believing Mario’s wife was trying to poison him.  His eventual heir was the daughter Maria he had with his housekeeper Maria Bonaiuti.

Mattei was planning a big celebration for his 90th birthday and even constructed a special hall for the celebratory dinner with 90 guests. However he died at 87 years old.

rochetta mattei stained glass
A stained glass window featuring Mattei and his birth year in the “Sala del 90”

This hall is now the entry point for visits to the castle. It’s hexagonal in shape, recalling the Temple of Solomon.

Cesare Mattei's tomb
Cesare Mattei’s tomb in the castle.

After his death in 1896, his daughter Maria continued the business and by 1914 there were 266 stores scattered around the world, including in such unexpected locations as Haiti and China.

The castle suffered damage during World War 2 and after the war interest in electro-homeopathy declined. Production of the Mattei remedies continued until 1959 with the secret method of preparation being handed down through the family. Electro-homeopathy continues to have adherents, especially in Pakistan and India.

After falling into disrepair, the castle was restored by a local bank and opened to the public in 2015.

Let’s have a bit more of a look around the rochetta. After coming up the entry path,

Rochetta mattei bologna
The castle entrance

we’re met by the Count himself.

Cesare Mattei castle bologna
A cardboard cut-out Cesare Mattei meets you on arrival.

There are many interesting details inside the castle.

Rochetta mattei ceiling
A ceiling rose
rochetta mattei
A corner of the castle
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A Moorish inspired interior.

The building is full of symbolistic elements.

For example, the main door is decorated with a symbol representing the sun and is aligned to the sunrise on the day of the summer solstice. Above the left of the doorway is a statue of a harpy supporting a globe. This is a malign figure, indicating that the evils of the world remain outside the castle.

Rochetta Mattei doorway bologna
The entrance is rich in symbolism.

Above the doorway can be seen three small lions. Lions are a symbol of power and authority whilst three is the perfect number symbolising the trinity. Groups of three can be seen all over the building.,  The stained glass window seen in the image earlier in the post is divided into three parts.Three lions support the fountain in the “Alhambra” courtyard.

arpy supporting a globe rochetta mattei
The harpy supporting a globe.

Another example of symbolism is the row of pelicans high on an external wall . It’s a bit difficult to see but they are feeding their young with blood from self inflicted wounds. This a symbol of sacrifice associated with the Rosicrucians of which Mattei was believed to have been a Grand Master.

Rochetta mattei pelicans
The Rosicrucian pelican symbol.

Rochetta Mattei is located just outside of the small town of Riola, about 16km from Bologna. You can get there by train which takes about an hour. Catch the regional train heading towards Porretta Terme. From Riola train station it’s about a 15 minute walk to the castle.

At the time of writing, the Rochetta Mattei was open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am til 3pm in winter and from 1pm til 5.30pm in summer and cost €10. It’s free on the first Sunday of the month. It may be open more frequently in August.

Entry is only with a guided tour. You need to book ahead via this site.

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