“The Leopard” is a classic. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s masterpiece reached the peak of success thanks to Luchino Visconti’s film starring Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale and Burt Lancaster, and now it is ready to return on the screen with the Netflix-signed TV series “The Leopard.” One of the iconic places that were used as sets in the 1960s is located in Palermo, in the heart of the historic center. It is Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi, consecrated to immortality with the unforgettable dance scene. Let’s find out more with Sicilian Secrets.
Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi (known to Palermo residents simply as ‘Palazzo Gangi’) is one of the must-sees for any fan of “The Leopard” who happens to visit Palermo. An eclectic building steeped in history, it is an architectural treasure that enchants with its majesty and timeless beauty. Through the centuries, Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi has been a symbol of prestige and power, as well as a treasure chest of art and culture. Let us discover together the fascinating history and unique features of this extraordinary place.
The history of Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi
Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi was built in the 18th century at the behest of the noble Valguarnera family, one of the oldest and most influential in Palermo, and has reached the threshold of the 21st century substantially intact, representing an example of Italian rococo. Several important artistic figures have enriched the rooms of this mansion with their skill, such as architect Andrea Gigante, to whom we owe the monumental staircase adorned with marble statues by Marabitti, and architect Ernesto Basile, author of a large stained-glass window added in the early 20th century.
In 1820 Princess Giovanna Valguarnera, the last heir of her lineage, married Giuseppe Mantegna prince of Gangi, bringing the family mansion as a dowry. It was precisely the new owner who wanted its renovation to which it is possible to trace the sumptuous style that evokes Louis XVI fashion. After a period of decline, recently and after further restoration, Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi has regained its former splendor so much so that in the last century it has welcomed such notables as musicians Richard Wagner and Vincenzo Bellini, and sovereigns of England such as George V, Edward VII and, in 1980, Queen Elizabeth II together with her husband Philip of Edinburgh.
Currently, the owners are Princes Vanni Mantegna of St. Vincent, who have been hosts since 1995.
Versailles…made in Sicily
One of the ten most beautiful private dynastic residences in Europe, this is one of the records held by Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi. Entering the halls, the eyes are filled with wonder: frescoes, decorated ceilings and fine furniture tell of what daily life was like within those walls in the past. Luxury and magic triumph in the Mirror Gallery, but also in the Yellow Salon (the ballroom), the neoclassical-style Dining Room and the Green Salon, also known as the Suicide Room because of the subjects depicted in the room.
A sort of museum, in short, a treasure chest guardian of Sicilian culture within which to get lost, hence the assimilation with the Palace of Versailles…the idea? Immerse yourself in a fairy tale! And if we are talking about fairy tales, all romantics will have well in mind the most famous movie scene taken there. The dance scene of “The Leopard” by Luchino Visconti celebrated this palace internationally, and today it is one of the main reasons why tourists (and not only) are so excited and decide to book a guided tour.
Once upon a time, “The Leopard”…let the ball begin!
Luchino Visconti fell in love with Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi and had no doubts about wanting to shoot a cult scene of his masterpiece right there. Everything was perfect and to his taste, no scenic tricks would be needed…only, however, indulging some ‘directorial quirk’! The first take was taken in the summer of 1962, the heat made everyone’s work challenging forcing the crew to operate at night.
Five weeks of filming, 600 extras and over 10,000 candles. What were they used for? Visconti decided to limit the use of artificial light hence the choice to use candles precisely. The problem was as obvious as ever, they melted quickly and every hour they all had to be changed, interrupting the filming. The director, however, did not change his mind. Just as he did not abandon the intention to make the men dressed in costumes wear white gloves with heavy clothing that accelerated their sweating.
White gloves that got dirty quickly, hence the demand to have a set of laundry workers on site who could wash the hundreds of gloves when needed to make them fit to be filmed again. Finally, a warning to all women who have dreamed of wearing Claudia Cardinale‘s dress. Know that the actress left the set in a state of incredible distress as the corset that made her so elegant tightened her waist from 68 to 54 centimeters, not without causing her some injuries. In the collective memory, Palazzo Valguarnera-Gangi is and will remain the ‘home’ of “The Leopard.”
Walking inside the palace and closing your eyes for a moment, you will hear the music of Verdi’s waltz and it will be natural to find yourself imagining Tancredi and Angelica twirling happily among opulence and refinement. A mansion to be preserved, a symbol of identity and pride for the city of Palermo and the whole of Sicily.