The history of the Marchionneschi family - Villa Elena

History of the Marchionneschi family

Our history

The nobility of the Marchionneschi family, more than the antiquity of its origins, and the exceptional honours conferred on some of its members, is the result of a way of life, the munificence, philanthropy and generosity of many of its members.

We presume that it originated in Poland, where there was a Marchionnowski family at the beginning of the XIV century.
In Italy, the first official trace of the family was in the year 1350, in Turin, where the Marchionneschis enjoyed much fame and power, so much so that in 1359 Tommaso, while in England, was decorated with the order of the Garter by Edward III for services rendered to the nation.

In 1439, Amedeo of Savoia decorated Giulio with the “Ordine Reale”, for eminent services to the nation. Giulio was one of the personages of the family who distinguished themselves in the ecclesiastical hierarchy for positions held, not only in the public administration, but as gonfaloniers.

In 1385 Francesco Maria was sent by Innocent VIII to help the conspiracy of the Barons in Sicily,and in 1532 Giovanni in Genoa, under Andrea Doria, at the command of a galley, covered himself with glory in the battle of Hellespont.

Towards the middle of 1700, the Marchionneschis left Piedmont and came to Tuscany, where they purchased land near Querceto from the Canons of Volterra, before moving to Guardistallo, where they were welcomed on account of their benevolent fame, which had preceded them.

It is believed that Celestino and his son Giuliano were the first to take up residence, and they are remembered for “the good use they made of their possibilities to help the poorer classes, sustaining them with generous donations and favours”.

From the union of Giuliano and Violante Lessi, came Gaetano, Nicola, Diumira and Giuseppa who, following the noble example of their predecessors, earned the title of Benefactors of suffering Humanity.

Giuliano, together with his relatives Michelangelo, Natale, Silvestro, Ottaviano and Lorenzo, taking advantage of the occasion of the Leopoldine land Act of 1778 , built farms which produced cereals, wine and oil, thus creating development and work for the local population.
From the union of Nicola and Erina , Sebastiano, Giuliano and Margherita were born.

The Guardistallo branch of the family continued with Cesira, Virgilio, Guerrino and Paolo. The last two died young leaving an indelible memory of their integrity; above all Paolo, who was a doctor and practised his profession with great conscientiousness and without any thought of self.

Cesira married Giovanni Biondi Bartolini of Pomarance. A cultured man of great ingenuity, and they had seven daughters and Giulio, who by marriage in 1907, become related to the noble lady Maria Dolores Baldi Papini.
Virgilio married Zaira, a Pisan noble-woman of the Rossi Ciampolini family and began a period of important works and investments in Guardistallo.

In 1877 he built a beautiful mansion at the entrance to the village called “Villa Elena”.

Two years later he decided to repair and improve a little square in Guardistallo at his own expense and the town council, in recognition of this decided that the square should be named after him.

Continuing his work of development and improving the village, after a year’s work he opened a theatre on 11.8.1833, this became a place of culture and entertainment for the population and also the centre and support for the musical group.

After his beloved Zaira died, Virgilio married again, Emma Biondi Bartolini was of an old noble family of Pomarance; three children were born of this union, Giulio 1890, Fabio 1891 and Elena 1899.

Virgilio enlarged the farm by buying land in nearby Montescudaio and Casale. He was particularly attentive to the production of wines, an art in which he excelled, not only for the quality but also for the use of modern techniques. At the beginning of 1900 he also exported his products as far as Paris, Montevideo and Buenos Aires, receiving prices and diplomas of merit.

In 1888 he restored the principal church which had been damaged in the earthquakes of 1846 and 1871.
Virgilio played an active part in public life, sitting on the town council and then becoming Mayor.

With great modesty and impartiality, on the occasion of the elections in 1889. he paid for notices to be displayed, inviting the inhabitants of Guardistallo not to vote for him, so as to avoid a detrimental dispersion of votes.
On 5.3.1893 he was nominated “Cavaliere della Corona d’Italia”.

Fabio Marchionneschi after careful analysis which went on for several years and having obtained favourable results, donated the source of the “Santissima Annunziata” to the people in 1933. For many years this source guaranteed the water supply to the Commune of Guardistallo.

In 1925 Giulio and his son Virgilio after him, in 1980, donated large portions of land in the Commune of Montescudaio for the realisation of the sports ground and public gardens called the “Boschetto”.

We consider that the Marchionneschi family is of historical importance, linked to Guardistallo and Montescudaio and this history should be conserved for future generations.

Agricolture and wines

Once the splendid mansion Villa Elena had been built, Virgilio Marchionneschi was not content to just administrate his estate, but followed the example of those ancient patricians for whom agriculture was, with good reasons, the most noble of arts.

A genial person, ever ready to exploit all the innovations of modern civilisation and being particularly interested in the progress of agriculture, he often travelled to Milan, Rome, Turin, Venice, Naples and even to Paris and America.

During these trips he stored up knowledge to improve his firm, which soon became a model in every aspect, especially in the production of wine.

Well-known to the Italian oenologists, his products were awarded prizes for their special merits.
It should be remembered that already on 30.6.1888, at the Italian Oenology Club Fair in Rome, his wines were given the Silver Medal, awarded by S.E. Grimaldi, Minister of Agricolture, Industry and Commerce.

The building of Villa Elena

Virgilio Marchionneschi decided to build a house suitable for the changed needs of his family and farming enterprise. With this in mind, on the 22.02.1878 he purchased the old cemetery land next to the church and rectory.

He immediately started building a beautiful mansion to use as a home, with every comfort for his family and guests.

In the basement there were ample rooms for the needs of the farm: the olive press, a big cellar, grain stores and several store-rooms for the preparation and storage of the various products, which came from the numerous farms belonging to the property.

He also set up a precious archive of documents, books and religious objects in a small chapel consecrated to Cardinal Pacelli, future pope.
The mansion was called “Villa Elena”, probably in honour of Queen Elena of Savoia.

Virgilio lived there with his wife and they were blessed with the birth of three children: Giulio, Fabio and Elena.
When he died, in 1920, his son Fabio inherited the villa, while Giulio inherited a similar villa situated in the Commune of Montescudaio.

On the death of Fabio Marchionneschi in 1938, following various successions “Villa Elena” passed to Elena Marchionneschi.
Her son, Piero Sforzini transformed the villa into a tourist structure in 1961 and nowadays the Hotel-Residence “Villa Elena” is patronized by a range of international clientele.

The little square Virgilio Marchionneschi 

In 1879 a little square in Guardistallo was defaced by ugly buildings and an uneven pavement, which besides being an eyesore to passers-by, was also a danger to their health and safety.

Virgilio Marchionneschi not seeing any action taken by the authorities, notwithstanding his continuous requests, turned to the Town Hall and offered to deal with the problem at his own expense.

The town hall authorised the work, which Virgilio Marchionneschi carried out in a short time.
In recognition of this the Town Hall decreed that, as a recompense, the square be named “ Piazzetta Virgilio Marchionneschi”.

The Virgilio Marchionneschi theatre

It would not be possible to write the history of the Virgilio Marchionneschi theatre without mentioning the local band.

In the statute of the theatrical society, stipulated by deed drawn up by the Notary Emilio Giudici in Cecina, on 13.11.1883, what has often been said is clearly shown, that the members proposed to build a theatre “which would answer the necessities of the place with the aim of fulfilling the needs of the Band, to give them all the net income from the theatre, which should have no other aim than the maintenance of the Guardistallo musical group.”

For the construction of this, we must thank Virgilio Marchionneschi, the inspirator and patron, who invited his relatives and friends to participate and who in part agreed.

Participants were Antonio Toninelli, Giovan Battista Marchionneschi, Tommaso Marchionneschi, Giuseppe Marchionneschi, Pietro Marchionneschi, Giannina Bartoli, Guglielmo and Emilio Marchionneschi, Enrico Toninelli e Luigi Nardini, who each contributed Lire 8,000.

Virgilio assumed the job of building and while the work was being carried out, became so enthusiastic that he decided to enlarge the theatre of his own accord with another row of seats (now 25) and pay for this himself, the total thus reached the sum of Lire 16,000.

The theatre was inaugurated on 11.8.1883 with a showing of Donizetti’s “La Favorita”, which was acclaimed with wide renown throughout the Province of Pisa.

The theatre, named after Virgilio Marchionneschi who personally financed half the expenses. The theatre was run for a long period by the Philharmonic Society directed by Maestro Orzalesi who, besides holding his own annual concerts, offered hospitality to the local amateur-dramatic groups. 

In 1920 a projection cabin was installed in the second row of seating, and so the theatre began its activity as a cinema.

During the war the theatre was considerably damaged and as a consequence of the serious state of deterioration of the structure, it was passed to the Commune, which in 1981 started a plan of restoration. This was finished at the end of the eighties, and the theatre was re-opened on 13.01.1990.
Nowadays, with about 180 seats, it has became a perfectly functioning theatre with excellent acoustics.

The Guardistallo working men’s benevolent society

Towards the end of the 18th century, the Benevolent Societies were starting to be set up in Tuscany, erroneously called workmen’s societies, but since there was no industry, the agricultural workers were considered workmen.

Montescudaio was one of the first to set up an “Agricultural workmen’s Group for Mutual Help and Moral Improvement” in March 1883, with a legal statute and about 90 members.

Virgilio Marchionneschi was asked to join this society so as “to add lustre with the authoritativeness of his name and in consideration of his philanthropic sentiments”, and also since Alessandro Marchionneschi , Enrico Toninelli, Pietro Marchionneschi and other inhabitants of Guardistallo had already taken part.

Virgilio Marchionneschi, either because of local patriotism or perhaps thinking that a society with such aims should be set up, so as to work better locally, with the help of Giovan Battista Lotti and Gualberto Faccini (future Mayor), formed the Society of Mutual Help among the workers of Guardistallo, donating 2 rooms as the Offices, situated in the locality “Nave” (now the pharmacy) on the 26.04.1886 (with a deed drawn up by the Notary Ronaldo Giusteschi).

1st President: Gualberto Guaccini, Secretary: Giovan Battista Lotti, Councillors: Livio Aiazzi, Ambrogio Salvadori, Egisto Marchi, Gaetano Gennai, Bartolo Bartoli.

The nursery school

Following the financial problems due to the disasters which occurred in the Commune of Guardistallo in the 2nd half of 1800, (the earthquake in 1846, the devastating hailstorm and another earthquake in 1871), the poorer classes found themselves in great difficulty.

In 1887 Virgilio Marchionneschi , sensitive to the problems of the community and urging the wealthy families to collaborate, by offering one of his houses for the purpose, set up a nursery school for the poor children, so that they could be cared for and supervised when their parents were at work.

The restoration and consolidation of the church of Saints Lawrence and Agatha

The principal church of Guardistallo, dedicated to the Saints Lawrence and Agatha was built between 1853-1858 with a total expenditure of Lire 30,189.69, in an area of Guardistallo where the ground consisted of embankment, yellow sands and blue clay of little consistence.

In 1880, after the earthquake of 1871, cracks and lesions became visible in the structure, caused by the “slipping of the superficial part of the hill”.
The lesions continued to get bigger and on 24.7.1885, following an inspection by Engineer Olinto Citti, director of the Civil Engineers in Pisa, the church was closed, for fear of a sudden collapse of the west arm of the Latin crucifix.

Considering the seriousness of the situation, Commendator Meneghini, Prof. of Geology at Pisa University was called and he even discussed the possibility of total demolition.

Pietro Marchionneschi , Gonfalonier and Mayor opposed this together with the faithful, declaring that he was willing to contribute to the expenses, as long as they proceeded with the restoration.

An estimate was prepared: the expense was considerable, the sum being Lire 12,232.
Virgilio Marchionneschi assumed the task of effectuating the consolidation and reconstruction of the lesioned parts of the church, with only a contribution from the government of Lire 6,700 and eventual contributions from the Town Hall and the faithful.

The work was started on 1.6.1888: to the great satisfaction of the Parish Priest and the villagers, the church was re-opened in December 1889, with the authorisation of the Civil Engineers in Pisa.

The philanthropic works in favour of the community

The Marchionneschis distinguished themselves for their generosity towards the suffering people.

Whenever there was a calamity or misfortune they strived, either directly or by setting up committees for the collection of money.
Beside this, collections of foodstuffs (corn and maize) were made, which were then sold and the profit passed on to the provincial committees.

Luigi and Sebastiano Marchionneschi made a loan respectively of Lire 4,000 and Lire 700 to the Commune of Guardistallo, which was entirely without resources, to cover the immediate needs of those who had lost everything in the earthquake of 14.8.1846 and 29.7.1871.

Here is a list of various initiatives:
1879- Committee for the victims of the Po : Lire 185.20
1882- Help for the flood victims in Lombardy and Veneto Regions: Lire 421.87
1884- Subscription to help the Neapolitans struck down by the “terrible epidemic” (cholera):  Lire 150.00
1887- Earthquake in Liguria: Lire 205.20
1889- Collection for the victims on the Island of Ischia: Lire 132.29

In 1920 Virgilio Marchionneschi authorized the bakers of the village ( Artemisia Regini, Palmira Signorini, Arduina Fontana, Gaetano Lessi, Sestilia Salvadori, Giovan Battista Lotti) to deliver a loaf to the needy families every day, ordering the administrator of his own farm, Iacopo Barbagli to pay for this on his behalf.

The bank office in Guardistallo (Banco di Roma) 

At the beginning of 1900, the evolution of the nearby Commune of Cecina, as an administrative and commercial pole, determined a development of the surrounding hill villages, which became centres of agricultural production.

The population of Guardistallo increased considerably: from 739 inhabitants at the beginning of 1800, they were almost double a century later.

The commercialisation of agricultural products ( wine and oil ) began and Fairs were set up, above all for cattle; and consequently there was the need for a bank.

In 1921 Fabio Marchionneschi accepted the honour and responsibility, with the backing of the Banco di Roma (which 2 years previously had opened a branch in Cecina), to set up, in his own Villa in Guardistallo, an office of the bank, for the deposit and administration of the money of his fellow townsmen.

In the registers, which can still be examined at Villa Elena, one is amazed to find that at the beginning of 1900, the client with the largest deposit was not a landowner, but Vittorio Stordi, “stonecutter”, who the older inhabitants of Guardistallo remember for having, like a true artist, carved and modelled the stones of the pavements and the more important buildings of the area.

Saint Annunziata’s well

At the beginning of 1900, Guardistallo, not having any wells to supply the necessary water for the population, used the rain water which was collected in special cisterns and tanks.

In 1911 tests were begun in the surrounding countryside to find eventual springs, but the search went on for several years with poor results, due to the limited means available.

In 1930 the searches turned to the catchment basin of Holy Annunziata, owned by Fabio Marchionneschi.
The water found, as regards both quality and quantity, was considered sufficient for the needs of the population of Guardistallo.

Fabio Marchionneschi donated both the well and the land necessary for the construction of the aqueduct, to the Commune, and finally in December 1933 the long desired water gushed in the main square, received with great celebration by all the population.

Donations offered to the commune of Montescudaio

On the death of Virgilio Marchionneschi, his estates which were spread around the communes of Guardistallo, Montescudaio and Casale, were divided between his sons Fabio and Giulio.

Giulio inherited the part in Montescudaio and it was here, after his marriage to Elettra Fratini that he built their home, at the beginning of the road to the cemetery. On the ground floor of the mansion there was the olive press and on the first floor the servants’ quarters and so on; until finally the grain stores and various storerooms for other goods. The building terminated with a small tower reminiscent of the nearby “Villa Elena”.

Giulio was a judicious man, calm and socially involved in the communal activities.
He was given the task of Justice of the Peace, by the Commune and he set up a full program of charitable works in favour of those who were on the list of the needy.

He showed his philanthropy by donating some of his farm lands to the Commune in favour of the general interest. For example, “Fondone” a vineyard of about 5000 metres was donated, so that a sports ground could be realized.

His son Virgilio was as generous, and completed his father’s donations in various phases. He also effected several cessions of a large area of the garden of his villa, containing many tall trees, for the construction of the public gardens called “ The Boschetto”.

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