located in fontanellato — a small town in the province of parma, italy — the labirinto della masone is the world’s largest labyrinth. created by franco maria ricci, publisher, designer, art collector and bibliophile (read our interview here), this intriguing garden comes from a promise ricci made in 1977 to argentinian writer jorge luis borges, who had always been fascinated by the symbol of the labyrinth, also as a metaphor of the human condition.
all images courtesy of labirinto della masone
see our previous coverage here
‘I first dreamed of building a labyrinth around thirty years ago,’ comments franco maria ricci. ‘on several occasions back then, in my country house outside parma, I played host to a friend and valued contributor in the publishing house had I founded: argentinean writer jorge luis borges. it is a well-known fact that the labyrinth was one of his favorite themes. and the paths traced by the hesitant footfalls of the blind writer as he walked around me, made me think of the uncertainty of those who move in the midst of forks in the path and enigmas. I think that it was watching him, and talking to him of the strange journeys made by men, that the very first embryo of the project finally opened to the public in june 2015 first took form.’
the labirinto della masone is a complex covering around eight hectares, with a path extending three kilometers long. the largest labyrinth in existence, it is entirely made of bamboo plants (numbering around 200 thousand in total) between 30 centimeters and 15 meters in height, and belonging to many species. all throughout, it is a maze for losing oneself in, and for fantasizing and reflecting.
‘behind my house in milan, there is a sort of hortus conclusus, a little garden surrounded by high walls,’ comments franco maria ricci when explaining his choice of bamboo. ‘at first I didn’t know what to do with it; but one day a kind and knowledgeable japanese gardener suggested that I plant a small bamboo forest there. I went to provence to buy the little bamboo I needed, and it was there that I discovered the bambouseraie d’anduze. it is a nursery with around 200 different species of bamboo, and is the largest plantation in europe.’
‘the bamboo instantly grew well in my little garden in milan,’ continues ricci. ‘I was fast falling under the spell of the plant. I went back to the bambouseraie but this time, I bought far more: I had decided to plant a bamboo garden on the land surrounding my country house in fontanellato. again, the experiment proved to be a success. until then, there had been no link between the bamboo and the labyrinth; but one day inspiration struck. it was a plant which provided the perfect material for building it.’
the labirinto della masone is an original place of many shapes, starting from the architecture of the whole project. there are three forms of classic labyrinth — the cretan one with seven spirals, the roman labyrinth with right angles and divided into quarters (four inter-communicating labyrinths), and the christian labyrinth with 11 spirals, of the chartres type. ricci referenced the second one, nevertheless reworking it and introducing little traps here and there — junctions and blind alleys which there weren’t in the strictly unicursal (single-path) roman labyrinths.
the perimeter is star-shaped, a form which appears for the first time in filarete’s treatise on architecture and was subsequently adopted by vespasiano gonzaga in sabbioneta and the venetian republic at palma nova in friuli. the maze project underwent a long elaboration process with architect davide dutto who edited a volume with the virtual reconstruction of poliphilo’s garden for franco maria ricci. there is also a pyramid-shaped chapel inside the maze, a commemoration of the ancient link between mazes and faith.
the labirinto della masone, under the patronage of ADI (association for industrial design) and AIB (italian bamboo association), on the occasion of ‘under the bamboo tree’ – two days fully dedicated to bamboo that took place on 4 and 5 October 2019 – launched the third edition of the international contest for the design and creation of an innovative design object with bamboo. to learn and join the competition, follow this link.
name: labirinto della masone
designer: franco maria ricci
location: fontanellato, italy
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