The Cavaletta Palace
The Cavaletta Palace (Palacio de Cavaletta) is the official residence of the Princes of Mantua. It was built in 1438 by the Cavaletta family who owned Mantua between 1406 and 1632. The palace is built in the neo-Gothic style and sits at 1,194 ft above sea level. Built on the site of a former monastery, the palace sits next to the Basilica on the Rock, the largest church in Mantua. It was rebuilt following an earthquake in 1762 when the former Cathedral of San Leopoldo was destroyed, sending tonnes of rubble cascading down the mountain into the villages below. The Palace, like the Basilica, is partially carved from the rock of the mountain which gives the buildings located on the mountain their sandy appearance. The Palace is just one of ten buildings to be constructed in this way and all are connected by underground staircases which lead down into the centre of the mountain which houses both the Prince's Crypt where members of the Princely Family are laid to rest and the Shrine of San Leopoldo. It is therefore possible for those inside the Palace to use the Cavern Tunnels to visit the Abbey of San Leopoldo en la Piedra, the Shrine of San Leopoldo and the Prince's Crypt as well as the former Treasury of the Princely Family - all of which are housed on Mount Leopoldo.
When the Cavaletta family purchased Mantua from the Tadena family in 1406, they decided to demolish Tadena Castle which sat at the top of the mountain and to build a new residence next to the Cathedral of San Leopoldo. Henri de Cavaletta was an extremely wealthy man with a particular devotion to San Leopoldo who had been beatified in 1389 but had yet to be declared a Saint. Leopoldo's body had long been on display in the cave inside the mountain where the Saint had lived in the 10th century AD and was cared for by monastics living in the abbey adjoining the Cathedral. Following his beatification, it had been decided to seal the grotto which housed the Saint's body and to build a chapel carved into the rock directly above his final resting place. A trapdoor was placed behind the altar to allow the monks to tend to the Saint's body. Henri de Cavaletta therefore decided that he would like his palace located directly over the final resting place of his favourite saint. The grotto is located around 700ft from the peak of the mountain and a stone staircase was carved from the peak to the Cavern Chapel to allow him to visit the shrine whenever he wished.
For just over 350 years, the palace shared the top of the mountain with the monks of the abbey adjoining the Cathedral but in 1762, an earthquake destroyed both the Cathedral and the original abbey buildings. Prince Joaquin II promised to build a new abbey for the Leopoldine Order which was located half way up the mountain. He was therefore able to extend the palace on the site of the former abbey buildings and to build his own cathedral where the Princely Family and their court would be able to worship. This cathedral became the Basilica on the Rock. It is connected by an underground tunnel to the Cavaletta Palace, believed to have been insisted upon by the Prince in case any members of his family should require sanctuary or the protection of the church. Today, the monks and nuns of the Abbey of San Leopoldo use a staircase built above ground to walk to and from the Basilica.
Over the course of it's history, the Palace has been damaged several times by fire and earthquakes. The most serious of these was a fire in 2003 caused by faulty wiring which destroyed the entire east wing of the palace built on the site of the former abbey buildings. During the course of it's restoration, the bodies of 22 monks were found in a vault under what had been a corridor leading to the old Cathedral. They were reburied in the private cemetery of the Abbey of San Leopoldo. Because of it's unique location, the Palace does not enjoy extensive grounds.
The Palace is a focal point of Mantuan life and the official residence of the Princely Family. It remains the custom for royal children to be born at the Palace with royal weddings, funerals and baptisms held in the Basilica on the Rock. Due to it's location, it is mostly used for government business. Meetings between the Chief Minister, the Royal Council and the Sovereign Princess take place at the Cavaletta Palace but other events such as garden parties and state banquets are always hosted at the larger Alcatadena Palace on the other side of the island. It is customary however for state visitors to visit the Cavaletta Palace and to tour the catacombs and underground tunnels as part of their itinerary. As a private residence, it is a firm favourite with the Princely Family for it's spectacular views of the Prince's Vineyards in the valley below. The wine produced from these vineyards is matured in the Palace cellars.
There are four state rooms; the State Ballroom, the Prince Fabio Dining Room, the State Music Room which are often used for official lunches and investitures. The Blue Suite comprises of three smaller private rooms, a bedroom, a dressing room and a bathroom which is traditionally where members of the Princely Family are born. The west wing contains the offices of Princess Fabiola, Count Jaime, the Hereditary Prince and Princess Elida. There are also two guest bedrooms with dressing rooms and bathrooms.
Current Residents and Staff
The Cavaletta Palace is currently home to Princess Fabiola and her husband Count Jaime as well as Princess Elida. The Sovereign Princess and her husband occupy a suite of 6 rooms in the east wing of the Palace whilst Princess Elida occupies a suite of four rooms in the south wing. In addition to the Princely Family, the palace is home to around 28 staff members. Of these servants, ten are known as 'The Princess' Suite' and have small but comfortable rooms inside the north wing of the palace. Staff from the Alcatadena Palace will often commute each day to perform their duties at the Cavaletta Palace but are unable to live there because of it's restricted size.
The Princess' Suite is almost indefinitely located at the Cavaletta Palace and includes:-
- The Chamberlain of the Cavaletta Palace
- The Vice Chamberlain of the Cavaletta Palace
- The Private Secretary of Her Serene Highness Princess Fabiola
- The Private Secretary of His Highness Count Jaime Zubero y Idali
- The Private Secretary of Her Serene Highness Princess Elida, Dowager Countess Agia
- The Keeper of the Prince's Treasury
- The Chief Press Secretary of the Court
- The Deputy Press Secretary & Chief Archivist of the Court
- The Lord Steward of the Cavaletta Palace
- The Grand Dame Comptroller of Her Serene Highness' Household