A DESIGN BY XAVIER KURTEN
At the time the Benso estate included a few farmhouse buildings: the chapel of the Madonna delle Nevi (later moved to an adjacent location), the “Margheria” farm with its vineyard, and in front of the castle a garden organized in four parterres with boundaries marked by hedges and flower beds. A branch of the Banna torrent flowed between the gardens and the vineyard, known as the “Santena Vecchia” or “Santenassa“ stream.
A map from 1765 shows the garden area as a meadow, delimited by rows of trees running perpendicular to the Castle: they were probably planes, and many majestic specimens still remain today. The 1765 map was confirmed by a plan dated 1797.
A late 18th century painting attributed to abbot Borson confirms further changes and shows the gardens in front of the Castle, between 2 lines of trees: the area was clearly used for agricultural purposes.
In 1795 Camillo Cavour’s grandparents, Giuseppe Filippo Benso and Philippine de Sales, had the Banna torrent’s bank built to contain frequent floods and consolidated the farming estate building, the so-called “Cascina Nuova” (New Farm), and entrusted architect Lorenzo Lombardi, already author of Torino’s napoleonic city plan in 1797, with a project for the arrangement of the gardens, which appears to be the first complete project for the entire area now constituting the park.
We know that the garden was actually built in the early 19th century when it reached the current shape and dimensions. The project by Lombardi was probably abandoned and in 1800 Giuseppe Filippo Benso turned to Abbot d’Arvillars concerning the gardens arrangement.
Around 1830 Michele Benso entrusted the definitive arrangement of the park in line with the fashion for picturesque gardens to Prussian Xavier Kurten (Brühl, 28 December 1769 – Racconigi, 8 December 1840), the director of Racconigi Park. Kurten placed the trees isolated or in groups around the central lawn and along the outside perimeter, hiding the boundary walls with apparently spontaneous thick woods; he kept the pond for its landscaping function and designed winding pathways to allow for different views of the castle. The park was further expanded and the entire area was designated for rest and leisure for the family and its guests.
Another painting from 1827-1830 shows the garden’s transformation into an English park: the tree lines have disappeared and the lawn features groups of trees and scattered woods..
There are no reports of further changes in the following years.
The 18th century villa in Santena kept its representation and seasonal holiday functions because of its proximity to Turin, and the Benso family added to it other estates where Cavour implemented innovative farming techniques and experimented with new crops and fertilizers: these were in Grinzane, rented from duke Clermont Tonnerre, and Leri, in the province of Vercelli, purchased after the sale of Camillo Borghese’s assets.
Interest for the Santena estate only resurfaced after 1876, when Giuseppina Benso became its owner following the death of her brother Aynardo. The Marquess started important renovation works and had the park reorganized, replacing and integrating the existing trees, but without changing the form and style of Kurten’s project.
In the first half of the 20th century the park was used for farming, annexed to Cascina Nuova, and no special changes were undertaken, just conservation and maintenance work, probably because of the Banna overflowing (the biggest floods occurred in 1901 and 1951).
In 1955 the new owners after the death of Marquis Giovanni Visconti Venosta, Città di Torino and usufructuary Marquess Margherita Pallavicino Mossi, granted a lot of land to Comune di Santena along via Cavour, tu set up a green area for public use and a slope to the banks of the Banna. Works entailed the demolition and moving back of a section of the boundary wall, and cutting down a number of tall trees.