Cereseto is about 50 kilometres east of Turin and about 30 kilometres northwest of Alessandria, Northern Italy. Probably established around 500–600 AD. and mentioned in records of the Bishop of Asti from around 957 AD., it is perched on a hill, and is dominated by its castle.
The town was the property of the Graseverto family of Asti, who probably built the first castle around 900–1000 AD, but completely demolished in 1600.
It was 1910 when the financier Riccardo Gualino and his wife launched construction of a new castle with 153 rooms and a park of 17000 square metres. The castle, in Neo-Gothic Piedmontese-Lombard style, was completed in 1913 and it was the result of the work of three men: the french architect Eugenio Viollet Le Duc, who influenced the restoration of medieval buildings in Piedmont and all over Europe in 19th century, Riccardo Gualino himself e the local engineer Vittorio Tornielli. Riccardo Gualino delegated not only the project and the realization to him, but wanted him to find authentic furniture to furnish the castle, a grandious home in a severe style with an elegant arcade with paintings, decorations on the walls and windows with terracotta ornaments.
The engineer looked all around Italy velvets, ceramics, forniture and many paintings.
Born in Biella on the 25th march 1879, from 1903 Riccardo Gualino began to know the area and founded in the nearby Casale Monferrato the firm “Riccardo Gualino & C.” that sold wood and cement. Two years later he transformed it in a society and built the the factory in Morano Po that produced 400.000 quintals of cement a year (yes, the same Morano Po, who now boasts an abandoned car racing circuit).
On the 8th september 1907 he married Cesarina Gurgo Salice and did their honeymoon in Istanbul travelling on the Orient Express. The following year he bought a palace in Cereseto, on which they built the castle. Meanwhile he dedicated his work to cut lumber in the forests of Carpathian mountains, where he built a village with big saw-mills.
He did the same thing in Russia buying 23.000 hectares of oak and pines forest in Listwin into Volinia region. Moreover, he bought in Petersburg a wide ground near the sea called Golodaj where he built new and luxurious buildings, creating “New Petersburg” with the financial help of 2.800.000 pounds by an English bank.
However, during the first six months of 1914 and when the zar had already inaugurated the first suburb with the contract signed, Gualino received a call from the general who was saying him to go there. He tried to do it without success and came back to Italy. Then the war broke out and his properties in Russia were forever lost.
When the First World War ended he organized the coal transport for the Italian government from America and he had participations in French and English banks, magazines, but also Italian societies like Giovanni Agnelli’s Fiat, of which he was member and vice president. With the banker Albert Oustric, he also founded the Oustric bank with which he financed his fabrics, wools, leather, footwear and cement industries.
Gualino’s position was so important that in 1925 he was considered one of the most important european men in Europe.
However, in 1931 Gualino was confined by the fascist regime to the Aeolian island of Lipari on charges of fraudulent bankruptcy and suffered the confiscation of all his property including the castle, his magnificent villa in Sestri Levante (today it’s a hotel) and big palaces in Turin.
Riccardo Gualino died in Florence in 1964 at the age of 85, his wife Cesarina in Rome in 1992 at the tender age of 102. They had two children, Listvinia and Renato, both with health problems. However, the family is almost as if it did not exist, not even a photo in the Fiat archive, no memory of him when one thinks of the great Italian entrepreneurs.
The interior of the magnificent castle consisted in more than 150 rooms with two galleries to enter it, two dining rooms, two bedroms, a music room, some rest rooms, the kitchen, the salon, a little library, Guarino’s family private church and many others unused rooms.
It included also wonderful arms room even if it was unused as Vittorio Tornielli wanted to create a truthful medieval castle, and he procured fireplaces also from Egypt and and Middle-East.
The artificial caves and dens inside the park were built to give hospitality to chamois, mouflons, swans and ostrichs. Towards west there was an aviary with rare species, and there was also an enormous glass-house and a big orchard. Under it a vineyard that exetended for many hectares.
Sadly, after Guarino’s crash and the seizure of his estates, the castle went through various changes of ownership, but eventually declined and was abandoned. The Bank of Italy sequestrated the building in 1928, that was valued for 800millions Liras. A part of the furniture were sold on auction and used to furnish Italian embassy in London and the other part went to Galleria Sabauda of Turin.
At one time the castle even hosted one of the most impressive illegal drug refineries and laboratories in Europe but, later it became property of the financier Carlo Mereta’s Martina company that, as of December 2014, was bankrupt, and new owners were being sought.
But that’s not all: in fact, after the intervention to restore legality in the Cereseto Castle, something truly unexpected happened.
From a cavity, in a narrow place, in search of who knows what hiding place of the drug traffickers who settled within those walls, what will always remain the more sinister secret of the Cereseto Castle was discovered: a small zinc coffin.
What it contained is easy to imagine, how the facts happened, certainly less intuitive. The fact is that no one will ever forget that discovery but it is certain that somewhere, one or more consciences know the macabre details of this discovery.
Apparently, the castle is for sale and to restore it Italian government finances the 30%….