Visist to Asolo - Italy

October 2005

by Jantina & Willem van Osnabrugge

The town has its own postage stamp

The Ringling Asolo Theater
Our main interest was to see where the Sarasota Asolo Theater had originated from. Lower down on this page is more info and pics of the original building in the town of Asolo, Italy.

I have heard it pronounced in many different ways, but generally people in Sarasota pronounce the name of the namesake theater as "Ass-Low". I asked half a dozen people in the Asolo city how they pronounce the name of their town. They all did it the same way. Their pronunciation is: Aaahhh (like at the doctor's: open wide and say Aaahhh) Zu (as the u in summer) Lo (as the o in "how low can you go"). Aaahhh-Zu-Lo.

Since we are on the subject of pronunciation, I tried Venetian people to pronounce and comment on Ca' d' Zan. What has become clear to me is that the name is a pun. It is the European (Italian and other countries') pronunciation (not dialect) of "House of John". Ca' is short for Casa. di (d') is short for "of", and "John" is phonetically pronounced as "dzon" in the British pronunciation and "dzan" as an American pronunciation. Ca' d'Zan. Literally: "House John", or "John's House". Clever.

The Town
Asolo is a small town with some 7,000 inhabitants, and is situated 40 miles north-west of Venice, in the lower Dolomite hills. Asolo has maintained a suggestive medieval look, sited between the very old walls and dominated by the millenary "Rocca" on the top on the hill, protecting the City. The old streets are gorgeous. Gothic arcades and porticos, facades decorated with frescos and beautiful balconies.

The main sight is the Castle. Around 1500 it was the Palace of Caterina Cornaro; it is an old massive construction which has been often altered; its typical tower with the clock is original. The Eleonora Duse Theatre is inside. This is where the Sarasota theater was once installed. See more below.

The medieval Cathedral is on the main square. Inside you can enjoy paintings by several 16th century painters, such as Lorenzo Lotto, Jacopo da Ponte ("il Bassano"), Sebastiano Bastiani and Torretti's statues. The Captain Loggia, in the museum, is a beautiful construction of the 15th century, which facade is covered with frescos of Contarini (1560). The Eleonora Duse room contains the memories, the relics and the correspondence of the great actress. A spinet and other relics remember Robert Browning. Manuscripts and portraits of the Queen Cornaro are treasured too.

Writers, Italian and foreign poets and artists, brought by the historical events or attracted by the beauty of this place, visited and loved this city.

I bought some old engravings in an Asolo antique shop. Click on the thumbnails below to enlarge.

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La Citta di Asolo
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Centro Storico di Asolo
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Regina di Cipro, Gerusalemme e
Armenia. Signora di Asolo dal 1489

Photos of our visit to Asolo, Italy

Asolo and the Dolomite hills

Rolling hills

Cathedral tower

Cathedral on the Town square. Jantina in the foreground

Typical street with porticos. Flower baskets everywhere


"Albergo Al Sole" on the town square. Centuries old hotel.
We splurged here for one night. Very nice.

Porticos everywhere.

The Lombard House. 16th century. The oldest house in Asolo.

Villa Scotto Panini.
The "Rocco", overlooking the town is in the background

The Castle
This is where the Ringling theater came from

Castello della Regina. West side, from the lower street level

Castello della Regina. West side, from street level

Castello della Regina. East side. Main entrance to the theater.
On the street level there is now a bar and restaurant with the ugly awnings.

Castello della Regina. Theater entrance doors on second floor.
Entrance to the Teatro Duse.

Asolo Theater at the Ringling Museum
The Ringling Museums Newsletter of December 1972 mentions the following:
     The theater was built in 1798. For more than a century a brilliant array of actors, including Eleanora Duse, performed on its stage while vacationing Englishmen and writers like Robert Browning watched from the boxes. In 1930 the theater was dismantled to make way for a modern movie house. The proscenium arch, the curving box frontals, the ceiling decorations, the valances above the box openings and numerous ornamental details were sold to an antique dealer in Venice who stored them for the next 20 years. These were purchased for the State of Florida by the first director of the Ringling Museums, A. Everett Austin, in 1949, shipped to Sarasota and temporarily installed in the museum auditorium.

In 1972 three Italian restorers came to Sarasota to measure and photograph all aspects of the original Asolo theater with the brief to reproduce the 18th century theater in its orginal setting, the Castello della Regina in Asolo, Italy. Read the complete article here.

The resulting Eleanora Duse theater is finished in wood and, although nice, is fairly plain and does not have the lush and beautiful Victorian finish and detail as the Ringling Asolo theater.

Original Theater in Asolo, Italy

Present theater in Asolo, Italy

Castello della Regina. Teatro Duse present interior. Photo from stage

Castello della Regina. Teatro Duse present interior. Photo from from rear.

Ringling Museum's Asolo Theater Conservation and Restoration project.
Last year, the Asolo theater was dismantled in order to be reinstalled in the new visitor's pavillion, to be completed in 2006. Michelle Scalera and the Conservation Department is presently working on bringing this jewel back to its former glory.

Interior Ringling Asolo Theater. Postcard from 1970s

Willem van Osnabrugge
Ringling Museum Docent

November 2005