The history of Villa di Ulignano begins with Jacopo Inghirami (1565 - 1623) Governor of the port town of Livorno and Knight of the Order of St. Stephen, an exclusive naval “club” created by the Medici family under the guise of a religious order. He owned many estates in the area and having decided to build a country residence, he commissioned the famous Florentine architect Gherardo Silvani (1579-1675) to build the Villa di Ulignano in the countryside of Volterra. While the Villa was essentially used by the noble family who owned it as a retreat from their social and professional commitments, the estate was also home to a community of farmers who worked the estate's land, producing wine, olive oil, wheat and vegetables.
The spirit of the place still today manifests this double nature: on one hand it is a proper noble residence, and on the other it is very much a country estate following the natural rhythm of the seasons. It might have been this dual-spirit that enchanted, centuries later, one of Italy's greatest artists of the 20th century. While travelling through these hills on a quest to find locations for his latest movie, he came across the Villa di Ulignano and fell in love.
The man was Luchino Visconti, the famed writer and director of both cinema and theatre, one of the founding-fathers of the Italian Neorealist movement. The movie was Sandra, all shot in Volterra in the end, winner of the Golden Lion at the 30th International Film Festival of Venice.
The producer of the movie was Franco Cristaldi, one of Italy's greatest film producers, the man behind many of the most memorable stories of Italian cinema. Soon after his work on Sandra, Cristaldi became the new owner of Villa di Ulignano, purchasing it from the State at a public auction after decades of abandon.
It was 1967 and Italian cinema was in its Golden Era. These were the years of the art films of Federico Fellini, of the social and political protest films of Francesco Rosi, of the timeless Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone. And it is at this moment in time that a new page in the history of the villa was turned. The Villa di Ulignano had become a place where great minds came to think, breathe and make films in an environment of carefree and creative harmony. La Dolce Vita – the spirit and the entourage - had come to Volterra.
Today the villa is still owned by the Cristaldi family and it continues to build its history, welcoming guests from all over the world to partake in and live its unique and enchanted atmosphere...
Franco Cristaldi on the right with Suso Cecchi D'Amico, Luchino Visconti (with the cigarette) and Marcello Mastroianni
He was a three-time Oscar winner, awarded for Best Screenplay for Pietro Germi's “Divorce Italian Style” in 1962, Best Foreign Film with Federico Fellini's “Amarcord” in 1974 and Giuseppe Tornatore's “Cinema Paradiso” in 1990.
He was also awarded with 4 Palme d'Or in Cannes, 3 Golden Lions at the Venice Film Festival, about 20 David di Donatello and 50 Silver Ribbons and countless other italian and international awards.
When Franco purchased the villa he was married with the famous Italian actress Claudia Cardinale, and in fact the locals in Volterra still remember the regular presence of the actress and the many leading personality of the film industry.