Opened in 2004, the Museo del Balì is installed in the splendid setting of the 18th-century Villa del Balì in the Saltara communal administration at about 15 km from Fano.
Renovated for the museum inauguration, the building is situated in an area with a rich historical and cultural legacy.
The Villa del Balì has a long and complex history. In ancient times its hill was the site of a temple dedicated to the god Mars. Over the centuries “Mars” became “Martino” and the historical evidence points to the presence of a chapel dedicated to San Martino (St. Martin) as early as 1165.
THE ASTRONOMER BISHOP
In the late 14th century Giovanni Filippo Negusanti, the Bishop of Sarsina, restored what was now the Villa di San Martino, which remained in the family’s possession until the 18th-century. The most significant figure associated with the villa was undoubtedly Vincenzo Negusanti, the Bishop of Arbe (Rab) and Dalmatia. An erudite, authoritative cleric and prominent figure at the Councils of Rome and Trent, he was also an expert on astronomy. Negusanti eventually retired to the Villa di San Martino to observe the stars from four purpose-built towers (now demolished) and lived there until his death in 1573.
THE ARRIVAL OF THE BALÌ
In 1677 the Villa di San Martino passed to the Marcolini family which set about renovating and embellishing the building as “a pleasant autumn retreat.” It was during these works that the current façade was built with its elegant main entrance featuring a double stairway.
Because of the regular presence of Count Gian Gastone Marcolini, who was the Grand Prior and Balì (“Bailiff ”) of the Order of St. Stephen, the building then became known as the “Villa del Balì”. Marcolini was also responsible for the construction of a crypt beneath the lawn in front of the villa. The crypt was made up of four Lorraine crosses arranged to form four right angles. It ends in an apse with a barrel vault decorated by an enormous white and red cross. At the center of the floor there is a blind well.
FROM 19TH CENTURY TO THE PRESENT
In 1839 the villa passed to Maximilian de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg, and then in 1852 it became the property of the Jesuits of Fano, who used it as a summer vacation facility for their boarders.
Following the Valerio Decree (1861), which suppressed the religious orders, the estate of Saltara was handed over to the Collegio Convitto Nolfi, a boarding school in Fano.
A long row of centuries-old cypress trees still indicates what was the main driveway to the villa. Possible because of its remarkable natural setting, on 19 October 1899 the first Italian “Arbor Day”, introduced by Education Minister Guido Baccelli, was celebrated in the grounds of the villa.
Under the Fascist regime, the villa was assigned to the Pesaro branch of the Gioventù Italiana del Littorio (G.I.L. - the youth section of the Fascist Party), which was supposed to redevelop the structure, but nothing came of it.
During World War Two, the Villa del Balì offered shelter to many evacuees from nearby Pesaro who had been forced to abandon their homes in the city to escape bombardment (the city was close to the Gothic Line). From the vantage point of the villa, the German command observed the positions and manoeuvers of the allied troops in the Metauro Valley and on the hill of Montemaggiore.
In 1944 the Villa del Balì was taken over by the Fano communal administration; a restoration in 1972 unfortunately altered some of the interior structures but did prevent the building from falling into ruin.
Renovated by Saltara communal administration to house the science center, the villa now fittingly continues a tradition that Vincenzo Negusanti initiated 500 years ago.