Uncovering Italy’s Superlatives in people, places and things

Il Labirinto del Masone, Franco Maria Ricci’s Amazing Maze

Zeus himself could not undo the web of stone closing around me.

Opening line of The Labyrinth by Jorge Luis Borges

Discover Parma’s maze

A half hour drive northwest of Parma, there is a magical universe – a beautiful mind-turning labyrinth whose twists and turns, shaded paths and  exalted edifices transport you physically and metaphysically.  This is Labirinto della Masone. In 1977, publisher, designer, art collector and all-around bibliophile Franco Maria Ricci made a promise to Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges that he would create a labyrinth embodying the writer’s passion for mazes and labyrinths, which Borges often incorporated into his writings as symbols for life, death and the human condition.

“It is a well-known fact that the Labyrinth was one of his favourite 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”, Ricci once said, who himself had forever dreamed about creating a labyrinth within his estate and envisioned the cultural park to be a metaphor for the spiritual journey of life.

Ricci fulfilled his promise to Borges in 2015, and in doing so created what could very well be the largest maze in the world. The enchanting octagonal star-shaped Labirinto della Masone spans 7 hectares and took over 10 years, and could very well be the largest maze in the world.  A true collaboration of the minds with architects PierCarlo Bontempi and Davide Dutto, Ricci’s inspirations from Borges’ passion as well architectonical utopias and Roman mosaics, and poetry and writing.

Explore the largest maze in the world

Unveiled to the public in 2015, a walk through the labyrinth is to lose yourself in emotion. The breath-taking botanical masterpiece transports you immediately to a gioventù, a childhood, where the lines of fantasy and fact are blurred as you are immersed in a greenery of 3,000 sq mt of fragrant and lush bamboo hedges.

The journey takes you in the shade of 200,000 bamboo shrubs and 20 other different species of plants from 30 centimetres to 15 metres in height, and the labyrinth itself invites you to explore and navigate the wild through the many emotions that pop up along the way. Excitement, joy and curiosity begin the adventure to the unknown.

Taking the path further, with all its missteps and wrong turns, lost even with a map, feelings of frustration, confusion and longing begin to percolate. Finally, as the route becomes clearer, so does your intuition, no longer allowing the markings to overwhelm your journey and a sense of peace, presence and awareness washes over you.

The Labyrinth seen from the Belvedere at sunrise. Credits Yann Monel
Entrance Court. Credits Mauro Davoli
The Labyrinth from the Belvedere. Credits Massimo Listri
View of the Central Court. Credits Mauro Davoli

At the centre of the Labirinto del Masone lies a piazza spanning 2,000 sq mt, home to a red brick pyramid-shaped chapel, the Eranco Maria Ricci foundation. The beautiful, almost minimalist lines of the surrounding buildings (all handmade red bricks) were designed by Bontempi, who looked to the neoclassical architectural utopia of Boullée, Lequeu, Ledoux and Antolini. And the centre-piece pyramid itself recalls the labyrinth as a symbol of faith, filled with galleries, large halls and a maze-designed floor. Over 500 works of art from the 15th – 19th century fill the unique and charming galleries, including pieces from the myth of Crete, the Middle Ages, Renaissance and present-day modern art.

Franco Maria Ricci. Credits Yann Monel

“I now see the Labyrinth as a way of giving back at least a part of everything given to me by the Po Valley plains, including Parma, its county and nearby towns.”

Franco Maria Ricci

With a nod to Ricci’s passion and background in publishing, the foundation house a section dedicated to typography and graphic design with many works by Giambattista Bodoni (the 17th century master of modern typography whose work Ricci noted was “love at first sight” and for whom he edited a monographic volume) and an entire production by Alberto Tallone, the cervello behind perhaps the most important publishing and typographic studios of the 20th century. Visitors can also find many, now rare, editions by Franco Maria Ricci in the bookshop.

Amicizia, friendship, is the foundation of the labyrinth, and so noted within the galleries are keepsakes highlighting important moments in Ricci’s life, including works exploring the link between his editorial production and his eclectic art collection, as well as memorabilia from the important friendships and collaborations he formed with fellow artists, such as Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Roland Barthes, Octavio Paz, and many others.

Franco Maria Ricci Collection – Sala del Seicento. Credits Mauro Davoli
Franco Maria Ricci Collection – Sala del Novecento. Credits Carlo Vannini
Franco Maria Ricci Collection – Adolfo Wild. Credits Archivio Fotografico Franco Maria Ricci
Franco Maria Ricci Collection – Sala delle Colonne. Credits Carlo Vannini

Il Labirinto del Masone is a prestigious member of the group of I Castelli del Ducato di Parma, Piacenza e Pontremoli, the historic castles of the Duke of Parma, Piacenza and Pontremoli.

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