Graceful Villa Melzi on Lake Como, Italy

Graceful Villa Melzi on Lake Como, Italy
Villa Melzi has been declared a National Monument. The exterior double staircase rises up to the main floor and frames three arched doors that provide passage to the villa’s lower floor. The rusticated base and large textured brick-like forms establish a relationship with the ground, while providing contrast and hence highlighting the soft white walls. This treatment extends vertically along the corners, known as coins. The coins form a frame to the subdued façades comprised of a soft repetition of rectangular windows. The roof is adorned with chimney spires. (MT–Afb/Giardini di Villa Melzi)
7/3/2022
Updated:
7/3/2022

Villa Melzi d’Eril is elegantly placed on the waterfront of Lake Como amid a rare garden,  just 31 miles from Milan in Lombardy, Northern Italy.

In the early 19th century, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, vice president of the Italian Republic founded by Napoleon, envisaged the villa as a summer retreat. It is accompanied by a family chapel, an orangerie that served as a greenhouse, and a lakeside pavilion. These were set in a wondrous garden with rare exotic plants, sculptures, and an Asian haven, evoking memory and imagination of far away lands.

The Villa was designed by Swiss-born architect, painter, and sculptor Giocondo Albertolli, and built between 1808 and 1815. The neoclassic style draws upon the classical roots of ancient Greece, having a simple form with a subtle decorative expression. The soft, gentle tones of the white walls with light gray trim and blue window shutters complement the atmosphere of the lake with the lofty clouds that often float by before dissipating among the mountains beyond.

At the northern end of the estate sits an Asian garden with a variety of species including Japanese maples. Within the Asian garden, paths meander around a pond, cross a bridge, and continue up the hillside. Plateaus along the hill give views over the gardens and lake beyond. Seen from the lake, the hillside gardens form the backdrop for the villa.

While the town of Como is filled with many lively hotels and villas, Melzi stands by the waters edge amid a gentle setting. Her graceful presence connects with the spirit of Lake Como, and has timelessly continued to touch guests and passersby for over 200 years.

Villa Melzi stands on the lake's edge as the gardens rise behind. The family chapel, with the green dome, is seen here slightly closer to the viewer. In the background, Bellagio, the point of boat arrival for visitors today and a short walk to Villa Melzi, is seen further back along the lakeshore. (Lanfranconi/Giardini di Villa Melzi)
Villa Melzi stands on the lake's edge as the gardens rise behind. The family chapel, with the green dome, is seen here slightly closer to the viewer. In the background, Bellagio, the point of boat arrival for visitors today and a short walk to Villa Melzi, is seen further back along the lakeshore. (Lanfranconi/Giardini di Villa Melzi)
The villa faces the lake presenting a soft façade. (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
The villa faces the lake presenting a soft façade. (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
Four lions carved in Egyptian style welcome guests to the villa. (Deror_avi/CC0 3.0)
Four lions carved in Egyptian style welcome guests to the villa. (Deror_avi/CC0 3.0)
The Lotus Pond is presented as an offering to villa guests. Here the soft white calla lilies contrast the hard stone surroundings.  (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
The Lotus Pond is presented as an offering to villa guests. Here the soft white calla lilies contrast the hard stone surroundings.  (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
The lotus pond is centered on the lakeside terrace in front of Villa Melzi. It is representative of the lake, brought within reach of guests for close viewing. The small pond does not draw too much attention to itself in order to leave the broad terrace open to Lake Como and the mountainous terrain as the main spectacle. (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
The lotus pond is centered on the lakeside terrace in front of Villa Melzi. It is representative of the lake, brought within reach of guests for close viewing. The small pond does not draw too much attention to itself in order to leave the broad terrace open to Lake Como and the mountainous terrain as the main spectacle. (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
Villa Melzi stands looking out over the lake. The hillside façade steps in at the center, offering an entrance. (Daderot/CCO)
Villa Melzi stands looking out over the lake. The hillside façade steps in at the center, offering an entrance. (Daderot/CCO)

Hidden at the southern end of the estate is a spiritual realm: the family chapel. Visitors must cross the expansive lawn surrounded by gigantic aged trees to discover this spot. There are no paths to it. (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
Hidden at the southern end of the estate is a spiritual realm: the family chapel. Visitors must cross the expansive lawn surrounded by gigantic aged trees to discover this spot. There are no paths to it. (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
The interior of the chapel is also in the neoclassical style. It has a refined white interior, with ornamental barrel- vaulted ceilings that climax in a lofty light-filled dome. The chapel houses the tombs of the family members. (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
The interior of the chapel is also in the neoclassical style. It has a refined white interior, with ornamental barrel- vaulted ceilings that climax in a lofty light-filled dome. The chapel houses the tombs of the family members. (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
Octagonal rosettes line the dome and diminish in size as they near the central blue cupola, which steps upward.  This creates an expanding illusion representing the expansive cosmos and heavens above. (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
Octagonal rosettes line the dome and diminish in size as they near the central blue cupola, which steps upward.  This creates an expanding illusion representing the expansive cosmos and heavens above. (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
The octagonal rosettes are ornamented with fine floral motifs. The sculptural nature of the ornament picks up the subtle shifts of natural light through the course of the day. (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
The octagonal rosettes are ornamented with fine floral motifs. The sculptural nature of the ornament picks up the subtle shifts of natural light through the course of the day. (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
The Pavilion houses busts of the Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I (depicted here) and the Empress Marianna of Savoy, alongside the Duke Lodovico Melzi and his wife Josephine Melzi Barbò. (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
The Pavilion houses busts of the Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I (depicted here) and the Empress Marianna of Savoy, alongside the Duke Lodovico Melzi and his wife Josephine Melzi Barbò. (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
The hillside offers vantage points over the lake and the mountain peaks that appear among misty clouds.  (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
The hillside offers vantage points over the lake and the mountain peaks that appear among misty clouds.  (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)

An elegant wrought iron bridge extends over the “small water lily lake.” The fine design motifs and craftsmanship complement the Asian garden design. (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
An elegant wrought iron bridge extends over the “small water lily lake.” The fine design motifs and craftsmanship complement the Asian garden design. (JHSmith/Cartiophotos)
A palette of colorful flowers adorn the garden. Pink rhododendrons and white azaleas are on show here in the foreground. The promenade lined with plane trees line the water's edge of Lake Como.  (MT–Afb/Giardini di Villa Melzi)
A palette of colorful flowers adorn the garden. Pink rhododendrons and white azaleas are on show here in the foreground. The promenade lined with plane trees line the water's edge of Lake Como.  (MT–Afb/Giardini di Villa Melzi)
James Howard Smith, an architectural photographer, designer, and founder of Cartio, aims to inspire an appreciation of classic architecture.