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The Family

 

Villa Aureli opened its door to the guests in 1985, thanks to Leonardo di Serego Alighieri. This page contains information about his life and the lives of other members of the family.

 

 

Dante Alighieri (Florence 1265 - Ravenna 1321)

 

Dante is the most famous Italian poet. His major work, the Divine Comedy, is known worldwide and is considered one of the masterpieces of world literature. The Divine Comedyu contributed to the affirmation of the influence of the Tuscan dialect within Italian language. Dante also played a significant role on the Florentine political scene: he was part of the Consiglio dei Cento and became Priore - the highest charge in the cities’ authorities.

In 1302, after the defeat of his faction, the white Guelfi and never returned to Florence. He spent many years of exile in Verona under the protection of the Scaligeri family.

Dante’s son, Pietro, bought an estate in the neighbouring Gargagnago in Valpolicella, which are still owned by the Serego Alighieri family. In the sixteenth century only one heir of Dante was left, Ginevra Alighieri. When she married Marcantonio Serego, their names were united in Serego Alighieri.

 

 

Sebastiano Venier (Venice 1496-1578)

 

Son of Mosè and Elena Donà, he worked as a lawyer in Venice from a very early age, and subsequently was an administrator for the government of the Republic of Venice and governor of Candia (Crete). In 1570 Sebastiano Venier was nominated capitano general da mar (chief admiral) of the Venetian fleet in the war against the Ottoman Turks. Venier was married to Cecilia Contarini, who bore him a daughter, Elena Venier, and two sons. He was also a first cousin once removed of Cecilia Venier-Baffo, known as Nurbanu Sultan after her conversion to Islam. Cecilia became the wife of the Sultan Selim II and the mother of Murad III, from whom descend all succeeding Sultans.

On the 7th of October, 1571 Sebastiano Venier fought at the Battle of Lepanto, in which the Christian League opposed the Ottoman fleet. After the peace he returned to Venice as a very popular figure, and in 1577 he was unanimously elected Doge, and remained in charge until his death which occurred one year later. In the nineteenth century one of his descendants married the grandfather of Leonardo di Serego Alighieri.

 

 

Pietro Savorgnan di Brazzà, also known as Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza (Rome 1852- Dakar 1905)

 

Brazzà was the explorer who opened up an access to the Congo basin that eventually led to the foundation of French colonies in Central Africa. His easy manner and his respectful and pacific approach to Africans are the trademarks that make him one of the most striking characters of the colonial era.

Son of Ascanio and Giacinta Simonetti, Pietro was interested in exploration from an early age. For this reason, he enrolled in the French Navy and became a French citizen. As a result of two expeditions conducted between 1874 and 1880 - the first of which financed by his family - Brazzà succeeded in reaching the Congo River from the French outposts on the Atlantic Ocean. He then proposed to several African rulers, interested in trade possibilities, to place their territories under French protection, by securing under French influence the territories of today's Gabon, Congo and Central African Republic, once united under the name of French Equatorial Africa. Among these was the King Makoko Ilo I of the Batekes, who signed a treaty with Brazzà and arranged for the establishment of a French settlement at Mfoa, later known as Brazzaville (today’s capital of the Republic of Congo). His explorations were challenging the expedition led by Henry M. Stanley on behalf of the Belgian king Leopold II, which led to the foundation of the Congo Free State (today’s Democratic Republic of Congo) on the opposite bank of the river.

In 1886, Brazzà was named governor-general of the French Equatorial Africa. His respect for the local populations and his opposition to the violent exploitation methods of the colonial companies - which were de facto ruling over the possessions of Leopold II in the Congo Free State - made him important enemies. A mounting smear campaign in the French and Belgian press led to his dismissal in 1898. Brazzà retired to Algiers, from where he tried to campaign against the new policy of the French authorities, which after his dismissal divided the territory he had explored in territorial concessions assigned to ruthless colonial companies, following the model of the Congo Free State.

By 1905, the conditions of the colony had deteriorated to the point that reports of violence, abuses and massacres reached Paris and a scandal broke out in the French and foreign press. Brazzà was called back in service and was sent to lead an investigation in the colony. During his last journey to Congo, he witnessed the abuses of the commercial agents and of the colonial authorities that had succeeded him, and denounced the flaws of the concessionary regime implanted after his departure. On his way back to France, he died at Dakar on the 14th of September, 1905. He was 53 years old. Despite the official diagnosis was dysentery, his wife Thérèse de Chambrun, who travelled with him on that occasion, claimed until the end of her life that her husband had been poisoned. The French National Assembly voted to suppress the embarrassing report that was written following Brazzà’s investigation. Thérèse refused for her husband the honour of a burial in the French Pantheon offered by the French authorities, and wrote on Brazzà’s grave in Algiers "sa mémoire est pure de sang humain" ("his memory is untainted by human blood").

Pietro Savorgnan di Brazzà doesn’t have any direct descendants. His elder sister Maddalena married Cesare Meniconi Bracceschi and moved to Villa Aureli with him. According to his letters, Pietro was very fond of her sister Maddalena, and it is likely that he has visited Villa Aureli, since some of the weapons and gifts he received from the African dignitaries during his expeditions, as well as an original signed picture taken by Nadar and dedicated to Maddalena, are stored in the house. Maddalena and Cesare’s daughter, Anna, is the grandmother of Sperello di Serego Alighieri.

 

 

Leonardo di Serego Alighieri (Verona 1917 - Perugia 2002)

 

Son of Pieralvise and Anna Meniconi Bracceschi, Leonardo grew up in the house of Gargagnago, near Verona, which was built by Pietro, son of the poet Dante Alighieri (see above). His family occasionally visited Villa Aureli during the summer vacations, where Leonardo got hands-on practice of his field of studies, agronomy.

At the end of the Second World War, Leonardo married Laura Guarienti di Brenzone and moved to Villa Aureli with her. While managing the agricultural enterprise, for more than fifty years he progressively restored the house, the furniture and the artworks inside it. His love for the house and his careful and constant work have brought Villa Aureli back to the splendor of the eighteenth century. However, the house has not been embellished with ‘excessive make-up’: the marks that passing centuries have left on every part of it have not been completely obliterated, and restorations have been carried out by respecting the original spirit of the place.

Leonardo also succeeded in protecting Villa Aureli and its surroundings from the devastating effects of uncontrolled and sometimes illegal construction and urban expansion. Thanks to his efforts, the house and the surrounding landscape are now strictly protected by the Italian Ministry of Culture. His campaigns against the construction lobbies, which are extremely powerful in Umbria and in the rest of Italy, are being continued by his descendants through cultural initiatives and associative campaigning (such as those carried out by the Associazione Contado di Porta Eburnea).

Leonardo had a strong passion for archive research. He dedicated many years to the study of the history of Umbria and to research about the life of his ancestors. The library of Villa Aureli hosts a vast collection of books, object and memoirs related to the family. In the mid-1980s, Leonardo started to rent two apartments on the first and second floor of Villa Aureli. The income produced by this activity significantly contributed (and still contributes today) to the restoration and conservation of the house. Villa Aureli is now managed by his son Sperello.