So ok, I didn’t cycle across Malawi for hours in the scorching heat, but last Saturday, I did have an extreme adventure of my own while Sandy was being phenomenal. I was experiencing extreme history.
I was touring Sabbatini’s Castle.
So this fascinates me: In 1906, Alberto Sabbatini arrived in Malawi by way of Italy, Liverpool, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, and then various places in Mozambique. After dallying in mule exportation and stone masonry, among other schemes, he found his way to Port Herald (now Nsanje) with six pence in his pocket. Several years later, he had made himself into one of the most successful tobacco farmers in all of Malawi (then Nyasaland). Needing a manor appropriate to his status, he began building a castle.
And I mean a real castle. Built with bricks made on the property, he constructed an enormous private home complete with turreted towers, in the middle of nowhere.
He and his family lived there until Alberto’s luck changed and they lost their fortune. He sold the castle and the estate, Mapanga, in 1939.
Ironically, the castle was then used to intern enemy aliens during World War II. Italians, Germans, and Austrians were rounded up and kept in the castle for several years. There are conflicting reports as to whether members of the Sabbatini family were interned there as well.
After independence, the castle changed hands several times until it became home to a training ground for prison guards. Today, you can’t visit the castle without express written permission from the military.
Luckily, someone in the Society of Malawi has some pull and got permission for the society (and the rest of us who tagged along) to visit the historic site.
So while Sandy was being uber-athletic, I dragged three friends with me to see the castle. After a fire gutted the place years ago, it is now only a shell, but you can still glimpse evidence of its former glory – bits of intricate molding still lining the ceiling, fancy brickwork, glass in a few windows, fireplaces, etc. You can see where there was a double terrace and the spectacular views. You can tell where there was a sweeping staircase. It’s easy to imagine how life must have been for the Sabbatini’s.
Our visit was ‘extreme’ because we were strongly advised not to go inside the castle shell because the walls could fall down. But, being the intrepid, phenomenal, history buffs that we were, we went inside anyway.
No walls fell, but we still felt pretty brave. And phenomenal.