Labirinto della Masone: nature as art
Labirinto della Masone, (the Labyrinth of Franco Maria Ricci) in Fontanellato, Emilia-Romagna, is the largest maze in the world. Across eight hectares of land there are three kilometres of bamboo hedges, belonging to 20 different species, with a total of 200,000 plants. This lush area, created with a plant type uncommon in Italy, bamboo, promises an all-natural experience, and much more.
This picturesque strip of land in Bassa Parmense has been transformed into a cultural centre open to the public since 2015. It hosts a museum with a permanent collection alongside an exhibition space dedicated to temporary exhibitions, as well as a library overflowing with books, some of them rare.
There are also hospitality facilities, with two elegant suites for guests who want to spend the night, and the bistro restaurant Il Labirinto. Starters offer a selection of local cured meats, including Culatello di Zibello and Prosciutto di Parma, while first and second courses pay homage to the territory by offering dishes inspired by ancient recipes. The cooking style is symbolic of the local area: an innovative touch, a nostalgic interpretation of tradition, state-of-the-art techniques and sophisticated presentation.
The labyrinth’s creator: Franco Maria Ricci
The entire Fontanellato Estate, including Labirinto della Masone, is as unique as its designer: Franco Maria Ricci, who was born in Parma in 1937 and died in Fontanellato in 2020. A leading figure in Italian culture, Franco Maria Ricci was a graphic designer, collector and founder of the art and literature magazine FMR (his initials).
This land, home to his old family farm, has become a sanctuary of beauty and now hosts the Franco Maria Ricci Foundation. He undertook a massive renovation of both the buildings and the gardens, converting the farm buildings into a private home where he could spend his twilight years.
He chose to give the residence a neoclassical style, and in the manor house covered with creeping plants stand two stucco caryatids. He restored every single room, including the barn, built a rooftop swimming pool, and created a series of dehors and lounges. Inside, it is home to all his passions and interests. The 1,200 volumes of Giambattista Bodoni, genius of typography and father of the famous typeface, form the world’s largest private collection.
It also hosts reams of art volumes, mirrored furniture made out of refined woods, his favourite table from the ducal residence of the Boschi, painted portraits, naïve artwork and many curious objects that he enjoyed collecting around the world. The museum contains around five hundred works spanning five centuries of art history, from the 16th to the 20th century. When he decided to open the site to the public, he expressed his intention to combine the pleasure of living with the pleasure of knowledge.
Labirinto della Masone: among vegetation and architecture
It took six years of hard work to plant the 200,000 bamboo plants, to design the hedge path and to build architecture that would blend harmoniously with the delightful green landscape. The project was entrusted to Parma architect Pier Carlo Bontempi, an exponent of New Classicism, a style that is evident at the maze.
There are various references to the mosaics and baths of Roman villas, while the masonry work recalls the work of the leading architects from the French Revolution period: Boullée, Ledoux and Lequeu. Building materials typical of the Po Valley were used for the buildings, in particular handmade bricks for the masonry work.
The evolution of an idea
The initial idea for Labirinto della Masone came to Franco Maria Ricci thanks to the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, a friend of his and a leading author of the FMR publishing house, who made the labyrinth a key theme in his literature. Ricci, however, did not aspire to create a gloomy labyrinth-prison, like that of the legendary Minotaur. Quite the opposite, he has gifted to posterity a pleasant place to walk in relaxation and total safety, in a beautiful and unique natural environment.