In front of the main entrance of the mansion is the rusty gate of the Baron’s little garden, with a corroded family’s coat of arms hung at its apex. The Salleo’s crest consists of a lion raised upon his hind legs below a shining sun which the lion is saluting with his front paws. Below the feline’s hind paws there are three diagonal bars supporting its legs, a large letter ‘S’ interwoven between these lines. Peeking through the bars of the gate at the ruins of the garden in amongst the overgrown weeds and bushes there are the two tall palm trees and a stately secular pine who are the same height as the three storey palazzo, it is a poor realm for a royal beast to rule.
I wonder what the Salleo insignia has seen from his sentinel position on the palazzo. Fifty years ago he would have witness the movements of a busy town centre which has gradually closed down or moved away. These days the tarnished and weary lion of the forgotten garden is disturbed only by the occasional speedy motorino piloted by spiky haired teenagers who take a short cut through the side street.
The rusty Sphinx head door knocker on the large arched front door reflects a certain fascination for the exotic east. This is one of the details in the massive house which surprises and tells us something about the Baron’s personality. Pushing aside the Sphinx and stepping over the large first step through the door frame and into the foyer, I breathe in the musty air and squint my eyes to make the most of the dull light.
My vision takes a moment to adjust to the darkness before taking in a grand stair case crowned by an ornamental gateway. The ostentatious gate is embellished with intricate archways, accompanied by a rows of sculptured flowers in iron crowned by a series of deadly arrowheads like a sadomasochistic version of the iris flower design on antique Florentine florins.
Turning back towards the main door a colossal urn is sitting in the corner of the foyer with its large mouth covered with a leather hide. The container has a stout build which extends out into a significant paunch its girth gathers itself into a flat base. This robust vase was used to store olive oil, a valuable harvest for the Baron. It reminds me of the Sicilian writer Luigi Pirandello’s story La Giara which described a storage jar as steadfast as this one, large enough to fit a full-grown man inside. The jar personified in the story was as real as any other of the characters. I’m glad to see the Baron’s rustic pitcher is still in one piece unlike Pirandello’s which didn’t survive.
Above the full-bodied jar there is a window which cuts through the thick front wall. The opening is carved out obliquely creating a funnel like shape extending towards the inside foyer creating impressive depth and focusing the limited light. From the outside it appears to be a simple round window with an ornamental star designed iron grate. Inside it creates a flood of sunlight which funnels into the foyer like a natural spotlight no matter what time of day.