Palace Natali, Then & Now15. March 2023.
When you see Palace Natali today, it can be hard to imagine what it looked like just thirty years ago, when its present-day owners embarked on the journey of restoring it to its former glory. Thirty years might seem like a long time to complete a project, but in a storyline of four centuries, it is merely a drop.
Reconstruction of Palace Natali
Palace Natali is a cultural monument protected by Croatian law. The framework for its reconstruction was laid out by the Ministry of Culture’s Department of Conservation. It called for respecting historic boundaries and sizes, using authentic materials and traditional methods, and keeping true to the era when Palace Natali was built.
The true challenge, however, was not rebuilding structures – walls, roofs, and floors. The true challenge was honoring the history and restoring the spirit of the palace, its otium, while adapting the space to contemporary times. This required a sensible approach, heartfelt dedication, much forethought, and, last, but not least, time.
Looking for answers
At the very beginning, the structures were ruinous and overgrown with shrubs. But they still whispered many answers. Where they remained silent, we looked to similar properties in the region to better understand the fashion and mindset of the era.
Such is the story of the wonderful gloriette that today crowns the promenade in front of the main house. Other than four columns that were found lying around the site, there was no hard copy evidence confirming that it once existed. But similar properties in the region, such as the Gozze/Gučetić summer villa in Trsteno, had a gloriette; this, combined with the found columns, suggested that Palace Natali also had one.
Repurposing for contemporary relaxation
A good example of keeping a space authentic while repurposing it for contemporary times are the rainwater collection cisterns. The one in the main house was turned into a space for socializing, with a pool table and a wood fired oven, which makes it ideal both for game nights and wine tastings. The other cistern is in the outbuilding that was once used as a stable. Today, that is our Olea House, and the cistern makes for a wonderful bedroom in the family suite that immediately lulls you to sleep with its serene ambiance.
The stone whisperers
Stonework is definitely the hallmark of Dubrovnik architecture, and summer villas are no exception. Stonework here refers to walls and pavements, but even more so to elaborate detailing like well crowns, door and window frames, wall niches, shelving, and other elements. The scope of stonework is best illustrated by the fact that 6,000 square meters of stone were used on the property. If laid out, they would cover the entire floor surface of the White House!
Wherever possible, original stone was retained, like in stone rain gutters that had survived centuries of bad weather. Some elements, like door and window frames, required extensive repairs. Where it was not possible to repair the existing pieces, they were replaced with faithful replicas. Much of this had to be done by hand, and at Palace Natali it was largely done by the skilled hands of Mr. Nikica. Whenever you climb the elegant interior staircase, think of his passion, perseverance, and patience.
Trees older than ourselves
Finally, the gardens also retained their original layout and beauty. As you admire many indigenous species, from lavender and rosemary to olive trees, don’t miss appreciating the shade of the evergreen oak and mulberry tree above the main house. They’ve been around for over a century and have known Palace Natali before any of us.