Inspired by the castles of the Loire Valley in France, El Castillo was built in 1930 by HM Rodriguez, the first construction company in Medellin. The Gothic styled, medieval castle was originally built for the Lord Jose Tobon Uribe, who brought the blueprints with Gothis towers, needles, and ogival shaped doors and windows directly from Paris. In 1943, Diego Echavarria Masses bought the castle as a residence for his wife, Doña Benedikta Zur Nieden.
Don Diego was the son of Don Alejandro Echavarria and Ana Josefa Euse Masses, and although he was born in 1895 in Medellin, at the age 16 he was sent to Germany, where he attended high school in Godesberg, near Bonn. Thereafter, he traveled through different parts of Europe, while regularly visiting Medellin where he initially worked with his father, before settling in Paris. He later married Dona Benedikta Zur Nieden (Doña Dita), a wealthy German, who had his only daughter named Isolde.
Aware of the needs of the Medellinenses people, Don Diego founded the Itagüi Library in 1945 to promote cultural celebration and educational advancement of the population of Antioquia. He also donated the house and gardens where he lived before moving into El Castillo to the town Itagui. It was named Ditaires, in honor of his love for his wife, and became a recreation and convention center, as well as a school.
The family endured many tragedies in their life starting with the loss of their only daughter to illness while she traveling through Europe. Then, in September of 1971, Don Diego was kidnapped while on his way to the castle in the El Poblado neighborhood of Medellin. Wealthy families were always at risk in Colombia during this era, so in the event that he was kidnapped, he forbade his wife from paying the kidnappers for his liberation. Don Diego did not want to enforce the expectations of a paid ransom as the result of kidnapping, therefore the culprits (widely understood to have acted on orders from Pablo Escobar) were never paid, and Echavarria was eventually killed.
Before Don Diego’s kidnapping, his wife remodeled the castle and expanded the classrooms in order to convert it into a museum, which she would eventually bequeath to the city as a cultural center. In 1971, through deed, El Castillo, its grounds and gardens ceased to be a residence, and Doña Dita’s dream was realized. Currently, El Castillo is a private non-profit museum, dedicated to the promotion of art and culture. It exhibits changing collections of works from Colombian teachers and students, European artists, and collections of decorative arts: furniture of the last century, Baccarat crystal, and china and porcelain from around the world. The permanent exhibit is divided into nine rooms: Sala Luis XV, Music Room, Colonial Room, Entrance Hall, Living Goblins, Don Diego Room, Isolde Room, Doña Dita Room, and the Room of Memories.
The museum did not allow any photography inside the castle, which was a shame because Don Diego and Doña Dita were avid travelers who made extravagant purchases all around the world. They shipped massive hand-painted pots from Mexico, meticulously decorated porcelain from China, resplendent chandeliers from France, vibrantly colorful rugs from India, Morocco and Italy, lavish furniture from Spain, Germany and the United States, and paintings by masters from all over the world back home to adorn their castle.
Because Doña Dita fled Colombia after Don Diego was kidnapped, all of the family’s belongings were left exactly as they had been organized in their home. Isolde’s childhood crib, clothing, artwork and dolls were still arranged as if she had never grown up and moved to the States for school. Doña Dita’s massive spoon collection from thousands of cities around the globe remained scrupulously organized, along with her collection of regal gowns, many of which had never been worn. Don Diego’s camera collection still filled his shelves in the same manner as he had organized before his kidnapping.