Barnekow House – Anagni, Italy - Atlas Obscura

Barnekow House

Anagni, Italy

A medieval house with mysterious alchemical inscriptions on its facade  

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Anagni is a small medieval town southeast of Rome. It’s probably best known for the four Popes who hailed from the city in the 12th and 13th centuries, as well as its stunning cathedral. Medieval architecture is very well preserved throughout the town but one specific residence stands out: the Barnekow House.

Dating back to the late 13th century, the Barnekow House has a graceful façade with mullioned windows and an exterior staircase (of the “profferlo” type) framed by two round arches supported by a central column. It is an excellent example of Italian medieval architecture, reminiscent of the style that can be found in Viterbo with its external staircases and logge, or covered corridors.

Barnekow House is named after Baron Albert von Barnekow, a Swedish painter, alchemist and Hussar officer who settled in Anagni in the mid-19th century after marrying one of his local models. Von Barnekow had been sent to Rome by the King of Sweden, and his conversion to Catholicism inspired a strong religious fervor which he demonstrated in the multilingual, esoteric, and enthusiastic display of inscriptions on the façade of the building. 

According to local lore, the seemingly incomprehensible and elaborate inscriptions and frescoes are the result of von Barnekow’s hallucinations, visions and his alchemical research, which he pursued in the solitude of his Anagni residence (that he called “tribuna Albertina”) over twenty-five years. The inscriptions and frescoes should be read as a description of von Barnekow’s own transformation and alchemical journey, crowned by the apparition of the Virgin that occurred on November 27 1861. The house struck the German historian and traveler Ferdinand Gregorovius, who sketched it in 1856. 

Know Before You Go

The house is only open during special events. A local historian, Guglielmo Viti, recently published a book on von Barnekow and his alchemical research.