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Religion, Secrets and Conspiracy: the Unusual History of the Palazzo Rosso

Palazzo Rosso

The Palazzo Rosso has a fascinating history. Once the home of Ostuni’s first mayor, Don Paolo Tanzarella, its walls tell the somewhat turbulent story of the White City. Just steps away from the present-day Remembrance park, the venerable stone building has always been at the centre of the city’s social and cultural life. It was there that the trainieri, (cart drivers in Pugliese dialect), were waiting for their daily assignments. It is also here that conspiracies were hatched that would rock the region and the whole country. In the first part of the 19th century, the country we today call Italy did not yet exist; it was still a geographical area comprised of eight separate states. However, a revolution was brewing: Since his youth, Don Tanzarella had been a member of the insurrectionary movement “Giovine Italia.” In great secrecy, he invited the region’s most prominent patriotic figures to meet in the plush lounges and the 14 bedrooms of the 2-storey Palazzo Rosso. Their cause: ?to transform Italy into a democratic republic under the principles of Freedom, Independence and Unity. The conspiratorial gatherings at Don Paulo’s ended up being successful. On June 26, 1860, 10 years after this first meeting and after centuries of foreign occupation, Ostuni was the first city in Puglia to proclaim Italy’s unification and to proudly fly the red, white and green flag. 40 days later, Paolo Tanzarella became the city’s first mayor. Throughout his tenure, he focused on turning Ostuni into both a more urban and a more libertarian place. Upon his death in 1897, the benefactor of the White City bequeathed his entire estate, the family Palazzo, the furniture, the carriages and the horses to his eldest son.

At the turn of the century, things change and so does the Palazzo. Still owned by the Tanzarella family, the building houses the Biennial exhibition of the Industrial Technical Institute and then in 1971, four classes of the city’s new Scientific High School. Later, it contained the barracks of the powerful Italian Customs and Financial Police. Since the seventies, the beautiful Palazzo had fallen asleep for over forty years. Only its magnificent vaults, its centuries-old stones and its historical frescoes remained. Until…

The Project

After falling in love with the historical building that lay empty for over 40 years, interior designer Pascale Lauber worked with conservationists and co-owner of the hotel Ulrike Bauschke to uncover the mysteries of the multi-secular Palazzo Rosso and create an 11-bedroom hotel in the heart of Ostuni. Bringing Pascale’s vision to life exactly as she envisioned it was the biggest challenge. Every step of the project was carefully overseen, and whilst full of unexpected hurdles, these often resulted in spectacular discoveries.

The impressive cathedral ceilings were reconsolidated, eventually creating the remarkable sense of tranquillity and minimalism that now permeates each of the 11 rooms and suites. Not satisfied solely with these architectural wonders, Pascale individually decorated each room and suite with her trademark creative association of old and new art, objects and furnishings.

Functionality was also a crucial element of the hotel’s refurbishment. Determined to preserve the history of the building, the owners knew they would have to be creative to transform it into a working hotel. The unique bijou spa was created in the space that was once the palace’s former water chamber. Today the spa includes a hydromassage basin, a spa shower with chromotherapy, a Turkish bath, a Himalayan salt wall, a multi-sensory shower and a natural whirlpool dug into the ground.

Ultimately, an eclectic combination of traditional handcrafted techniques and contemporary flair saw the beautiful building finally transformed into a stunning hotel for guests to enjoy

Uncovering the mysteries of a building

The timeline is still a bit blurry, but Maria Buongiorno, the conservator in charge of bringing to light the former glory of the building, is certain that the architecture of the Palazzo is multi-secular. The most ancient parts seem to date back to the 1700s. There are fireplaces, stone vaults, but also frescoes, like the magnificent “Jesus and the Samaritan” that are clearly from that period. During the restoration, a wood door with peepholes typical of 17th-century cloisters has also been discovered. This treasure, as well as the many religious frescoes, suggest that Palazzo Rosso once housed a convent.

Later, it apparently fell into the hands of Neapolitans. Several clues point to the new owners being from Naples, starting with the beautiful original majolica tiles which have been brought to new life in our Bar 700. On the back of some of those tiles, Maria found an M stamp, the brand of a famous workshop owned by the three Massa brothers, ceramics masters of early 18th century Naples. Another clue is the colour of the building: This shade called Pompeii Red was named after the famous lost city because it was commonly found on residences as well as on the famous ruins. In the 18th century, right after the fabulous re-discovery of Pompeii, this particular red became a fashionable status symbol since the pigment was the most expensive on the market. Cladding an entire façade in Pompeii Red was, therefore, an ostentatious display of wealth and even more so amongst the white buildings of Ostuni.

The removal of several layers of green and brown paint from the inside walls uncovered beautiful neo-classical frescoes of the 18th and 19th centuries. In those days, religious representations were not in fashion anymore. In their stead, mythological beasts, playful dragons and gryphons cavort along with the friezes on our walls. It is there that we found the cute dragon that became our iconic logo.

At the turn of the 17th century, Puglia developed many public green spaces, and the team at Paragon 700 paid tribute to this by beautifully preserving the Palazzo’s extraordinary private garden, blending classic features with an urban twist. Once a symbol of wealth and leisure, the garden today lies protected behind high stone walls, enhanced by two rows of stunning Roman-style columns. The beautiful Mediterranean garden is full of surprises with an enchanting orange grove discoverable for those who know where to look. Divided by rustic stone walls, the rare green oasis in the heart of the city is simultaneously private and welcoming

Interior Design

A unique decor, down to the smallest detail, repurposed monumental lighting fixtures, South African custom-made sofas and headboards, gazebos from India turned into bathtubs, closets and night-stands from antique fairs from all over the world. The creative association of old and new art, objects and furnishings in a head-spinning and very personal mix is Pascale’s trademark (www.idliving-pl.com). Her keen sense of observation was sharpened during a lifetime of travel, countless visits to international art and trade shows, but also at the local antique markets. Her vision made of worldly elegance is multicultural and original down to the smallest detail. The unique result, coherent, deeply modern and stimulating at the same time is at the root of the exceptional atmosphere that permeates every room at Paragon 700.

Green hospitality for us is a philosophy, not a simple style; the elements of sustainability integrate with functionality, cost containment, environmental factors, and the health and well-being of our guests.

The architectural restoration has highlighted the ancient glory of the building, bringing to light frescoes of extraordinary beauty. A careful planning strategy and the time dedicated to the definition of the objectives and the characteristics of sustainability has allowed us to optimize and obtain the maximum result possible.