bamboo labyrinth by franco maria ricci in fontanellato near parma




when the italian art collector and bibliophile franco maria ricci left the helm of his extra­or­di­nary pub­lish­ing house, he told the read­ers of FMR mag­a­zine, quot­ing voltaire, ‘laissez-moi cul­tiver mon jardin’. he’s cre­ated is a mon­u­men­tal maze, far and away the largest labyrinth on the globe, at his country home in fontanellato, just outside of parma, italy. the ‘labirinto della masone’ is a cultural park, designed together with the italian architects pier carlo bontempi and davide dutto. eight years have passed since the work first began, and it is now about to end — it will open later this year.





the labyrinth, which takes up seventeen acres of land, has been built entirely out of several varieties of the bamboo plant. ‘I’ve chosen 120,000 plants of diverse vari­eties – bamboo it is a remarkable plant, which carries no disease, does not lose all its leaves in the winter, purifies the air of carbon dioxide…‘ says franco maria ricci.





the franco maria ricci foundation, which the labyrinth belongs to and which has the task of ensuring its continuity, has a statute, in which two goals are stated: to preserve and promote knowledge of the works and housed inside the museum and the library; and to safeguard the landscape based on criteria that are not merely conservative. one of the ambitions that drives me is that of fostering a union between two things that seem to be made for each other: bamboo and the po valley.franco maria ricci





‘some of the hedges grow to a height of 5 m — planted in a 300 m-sided square mak­ing for 3 km of path­ways. I would be happy if, in a few years, this plant were to become an important element in the po valley landscape, and our entrepreneurs were to get into the habit of using the delicate curtains of my bamboo plants to disguise some of the ugly industrial warehouses that sadly line our streets and highways. my foundation will supply them with the plants they need, and provide a consultancy service. and there is one more ambitious but important initiative I’d like to mention: the summer school of art, especially for foreigners, whose purpose will be to divulge the wealth of art and the heritage of the land surrounding parma by way of lessons and guided tours.franco maria ricci





the cretan labyrinth has seven circuits; the roman labyrinth features right angles and is divided into quadrants; the church labyrinth has eleven circuits, like that of chartres. franco maria ricci chose to use the second type – there is a center and a star-shaped perimeter with four interconnected labyrinths. it’s sym­bolic of man’s jour­ney through life, from igno­rance to enlight­en­ment, and the plan of over­lap­ping squares retraces that of the star forts first drafted by michelan­gelo to defend florence.


the labyrinth complex includes cultural spaces of more than 54,000 square feet in size, which will house franco maria ricci’s art collection (around 500 works of art from the 1500s up to the twentieth century) and a library dedicated to some of the most illustrious and famous examples of typography and art, including many pieces by gian battista bodoni and the complete works of alberto tallone. all of the books created and edited by franco maria ricci over his fifty year career will also be included in the collection.





at the center of the labyrinth, lies a piazza of 22,000 square feet, surrounded by colonnades. generously proportioned salons will be the venue for concerts, parties, exhibitions, and other cultural events. a pyramid-shaped chapel overlooking the piazza will serve as reminder of the labyrinth as a symbol of faith. there will be two restaurants: a simple, conveniently priced one, where local specialties can be savored (good prosciutto, torta fritta, and much more), and another one whose aim will be to make sure its customers remember it for the setting as well as for the service and the cooking. for visitors there will also be a food area selling traditional parma products, and a bookshop selling rare books published by franco maria ricci during his career.






there were marvelous gardens in the period before the renaissance. monasteries had a ‘hortus conclusus’, a garden for meditation and prayer. open-air cells where the praying person could receive visits from other creatures of GOD, such as the birds, the butterflies, and worms. there were also profane gardens in palaces and castles. if one travels around europe, it is still possible to visit many ancient gardens and labyrinths, although only a few of them have kept their original form.


in italy, there are two relatively well-preserved labyrinths, both of which are not far from padua and both mostly loyal to their early version: one is in villa barbarigo in valsanzibio, dated to the mid-seventeenth century, and the other is in villa pisani in stra, created around 1720. the nineteenth as well as the early twentieth centuries were a bleak time for labyrinths. some had already been destroyed. others were abandoned and overgrown with weeds. the men who had built those intrigues, as the reflection of their glory and their dreams, had died.





together with grottoes and nymphaeums, gardens and labyrinths are among humanity’s most ancient fantasies. the garden, or eden – which was so beautiful that adam and eve, newly created, kept rubbing their eyes in disbelief – is the embodiment of innocence as well as happiness. instead, the labyrinth is a source of bewilderment: it is a reflection of the confusing experience we have of reality and the effort we must make to live out our daily lives. all this has also become a book.’ franco maria ricci


publisher: rizzoli
ISBN: 978-0-8478-4164-6



read designboom’s book report of ‘labyrinths: the art of the maze’, here.


in this book franco maria ricci explores labyrinths in every form – drawn graffiti-like on crockery, stamped on coins, traced in manuscript illuminations, carved on cathedral walls, and planted in gardens – and features literary quotations from herodotus and pliny to jorge luis borges.


labyrinths: the art of the maze, is prefaced with a foreword by philosopher and semantics expert umberto echo: ‘if the image of the labyrinth has a centuries-old history, this means that for tens of thousands of years human beings have been fascinated by something that somehow spoke to them of the human or cosmic condition. there are endless situations in which it is easy to enter, but hard to exit, and at the first attempt, it seems hard to think of situations where it is difficult to enter but easy to exit.’



read designboom’s interview with franco maria ricci in 2001