Villa Antona Traversi in Meda, as it appears today, is the result of the transformation of the monastery of San Vittore operated by the architect Leopoldo Pollack in the first years of the nineteenth century. The millenary monastery of San Vittore was suppressed May 29, 1798 by a decree of the Cisalpine Republic, the nuns were expelled and the property, including the premises, sold at auction.
The Pollack wanted to erase all memories of the old monastery and build in its place an imposing neoclassical building, creating a patrician villa that we still admire in the grandeur of its spaces. This violent transformation skipped the Church of San Vittore, inside the villa, a Renaissance jewel of 1520 with frescoes painted by Bernardino Luini and his school. Heavy revisions have affected the Cloister, today an elegant neoclassical courtyard, and the internal Church, frescoed as well by Luini and divided into two rooms (the Sala del Coro and the Limonera). A series of neoclassical rooms, designed by Pollack, characterize the villa towards the garden.
The Monastery of San Vittore
The female Benedictine monastery of San Vittore was founded at the beginning of the ninth century, around the year 830, by two illustrious figures, Aimone and Vermondo of the Manfredingi family (a great feudal family of northern Italy) to fullfil a vow made to the Virgin . A century after their death the two were numbered among the saints and their remains are still kept in a sumptuous urn located under the altar of the Church of San Vittore.
The monastery was already rich with important feudal rights on Meda and surroundings towns like Cabiate, Novedrate, Cimnago, Farga. In the year 1194, as historian Bernardino Corio recounts, the monastery hosted the emperor Henry VI coming from his native Germany and accompanied by the famous bride Costanza d’Altavilla, already pregnant with future emperor Federico II.
But time was changing and the establishment of the free Commune imposed important renunciations on the monastery. In 1252 the abbess of the Monastery, Maria da Besozzo, renounced the main feudal rights over Meda and recognized the statutes of the municipality, while preserving all the ecclesiastical rights for the monastery.
Although weakened, the Monastery remained rich in the following centuries and in 1496 it witnessed the meeting between the Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg and the Duke of Milan Ludovico il Moro, in the presence of the legates of the major Italian states.
In the following century, although reformed and stiffened in the rules also due to the Counter-Reformation, the monastic life continued among the ancient walls, interrupted occasionally by the visits of the milanese archbishops including San Carlo Borromeo in 1581 and his nephew Federico in 1626 and those, likewise grandiose though less formal, of the wives of the governors of Milan.
The eighteenth century brings important innovations that are always harmful to monastic fortunes. The Monastery escapes from the suppression of Joseph II of Habsburg, but then succumbs to those far more radical by the Cisalpine Republic founded by the Napoleonic armies.
On 29 May 1798 a decree suppresses the millennial Monastery, the nuns are expelled and the assets are auctioned off.
Giovanni Giuseppe Maunier, a wealthy merchant of Marseilles and a supplier of the French army, will buy them in the following October. He will despise the famous monastic memories and commission the famous Viennese architect Leopoldo Pollack to transform the walls of the cenobium into those of a neoclassical villa. The rest of the monastery and the neoclassical villa were bought in 1836 by Giovanni Traversi and from him the complex passed to his nephew and then his descendants to the current owners, the Antona Traversi, who still conserve it.
But what particularly strikes even the most distracted visitor is the spirit that breathes all over the ancient walls, where it seems to relive a thousand years of our history.
The villa today
Inside the church of San Vittore and a parchment document from the archive of monastery
Pollack, wanting to use the hill on which the monastery had been located for almost a millennium as a panoramic terrace, demolished some buildings located on the top of the hill, including two small churches, the house of the educands, and even a cloister of which remains like testimony the well originally placed in the center.
In their place, using existing masonry and using recycled materials, he built the imposing façade of almost 70 meters in neoclassical style, which we still admire today. The neoclassical imposed on the architect precise rules and rigorous spatial balances that were respected by raising a plan of the whole construction and adding a lookout tower at the center that acts, with the advanced central body, between the two wings and completion of the building .
On the back of the imposing façade, Pollack preferred to preserve buildings as they were, modifying their exterior in order to hide as much as possible the original monastic character of the places. The central cloister became the courtyard of honor of the villa and to this was added a spectacular staircase to open the old cloister on the lower courtyards.
The Pollack added a series of seven rooms along the entire façade, creating a longitudinal axis of great effect, but also high quality rooms designed to constitute the essential reference point of the villa, all facing the vast semi-circle space called the ’roundabout’ open like a terrace on the plain. The rooms have undergone some changes over time, they have seen the furnishing renew themselves, but they have not lost their beauty. So we can still admire the hall of Masks, the Octagon, the hall of Mirrors, the Archive (which preserves the sixteenth century ceiling painted by Fiamminghino) and ywo rooms painted by Ranieri.
There are many testimonies of the ancient monastery survived the radical transformation followed by the suppression: first of all the Church of San Vittore, from 1520, remained intact and decorated by the frescoes of Bernardino Luini and his school. In addition to the Church, the most important testimony is certainly given by the Chorus Hall, the upper part of the former church, and the lower part below Limonera, transformed in the nineteenth century into a room for the winter storage of lemons. Another important testimony of the monastery is the Cloister.
The neoclassical cloister and Hall of the Masks