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Once upon a time there was a castle. How many of the fairy tales that have fascinated children of all ages begin with this simple sentence? Well, almost all, because in every self-respecting fairy tale there’s a castle. For a fairytale trip, Italy seems to be the right place, with its many castles to visit. Medieval, Gothic, Norman, on the sea or perched, Italian castles are a real heritage, not always guarded in the most appropriate way, but able to enchant tourists of all ages. And so on, on a journey that crosses the entire peninsula, from North to South, to discover the castles to visit in Italy.
Castles of Italy: a jump into the evocative past of a land rich in history
The map of the most beautiful castles in Italy is very full-bodied. Along the boot shape are scattered fortresses that tell the story of Italy, the different foreign dominations that have crossed it. Each region has a peculiarity, with traces of architectural styles that have now disappeared. The castles in Italy are so many, all immersed in breathtaking scenery, which frame a past that does not want to be forgotten. Stones that speak, tell, make people dream and in the silent entrances it seems almost to hear the hooves of the horses, the shouting of the courtiers and the music of the king’s parties, those to which the people could not participate. Everything was done between those “four walls” destined to the protection of the royal family, but also to the celebration of the splendor of the nobility of the past. Here, from North to South, the castles to be included in the list of places to visit.
The most beautiful castles in Italy: the fortresses of the great families of the North
To name them all would be really impossible, but here is a rundown of the main castles of Northern Italy.
SCALIGERO CASTLE OF MALCESINE, VENETO
A rocky spur. An imposing medieval castle overlooking Lake Garda. We are located in Malcesine, a romantic and characteristic village. In 1300 the Scaligeri family decided to rebuild the castle built by the Longobards and then destroyed by the Franks: so was born the swallow-tailed battlements, typical of the period. Falling in love here is a must, in front of the spectacle that opens up to the sight: the shimmering waters of the lake and the country at their feet.
ROCCA SCALIGERA DI SIRMIONE, LOMBARDY
You don’t have to move much to admire another Scaliger fortress, this time in Lombardy. In Sirmione there is one of the most famous castles in Italy that immediately conquers the heart of those who admire its features. Nature is confused with technique, vegetation challenges stone, in a century-old balance that dates back to Roman times. No postcard can make the infinite beauty of the breathtaking views and the majesty of the castle of Sirmione.
FORT DIAMOND, LIGURIA
The plan of this castle is reminiscent of a four-pointed star. An eighteenth-century rarity that leaves you stunned. The fortress, the first defensive bulwark of the city of Genoa, is built on a mountain with an evocative name: Diamante (diamond). Precious the place, precious construction became a symbol of the history of the Republic of Genoa and the Habsburgs.
CASTLE OF MIRAMARE, FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA
Among the most beautiful castles on the sea we find this jewel set in the Gulf of Trieste. The favourite residence of the Habsburg court, which considered it the most elegant fort of the kingdom. Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian and Charlotte of Belgium loved each other in the very decorated rooms. Cradled by the Adriatic Sea and surrounded by a park defined in detail, the castle still retains the original furnishings of the era experienced by the court. The exterior is white, pearly, colour that makes it a real fairytale castle.
THE FORT OF BARD, VALLE D’AOSTA
Touching the extreme peaks of the northern Italian borders, we find a small Valdostan ” bonbonniere”: “Bard”, a medieval village that has remained almost intact and is dominated by a perfectly preserved 19th century castle. Time seems to have stopped in the three buildings that make up the fortress, scattered on three different levels. 15.000 m of history and legend, with inside the Museum of the Alps, dedicated to the most famous mountains of Italy. Just over 160 inhabitants “crowd” the streets of this little jewel of the Aosta Valley, the site of a historic siege of Napoleon, remembered by Stendhal in his writings and loved by a very young Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour.
CASTLE OF TORRECHIARA, EMILIA ROMAGNA
Suspended between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the castle of Torrechiara stands out in the sky of the Emilia region as one of the most significant and best preserved examples of Italian castellated architecture. Its halls once housed a very large court that loved to be safe: to defend the fortress three turns of walls and towers of different heights to never lose sight of any point on the horizon. You remain enchanted by the beauty of the “Camera d’Oro”, created by Benedetto Bembo, to celebrate the delicate love story between Pier Maria Rossi, lord of the castle, and Bianca Pellegrini.
CASTLE OF FENIS, VALLE D’AOSTA
Among the famous castles there is certainly that of Fénis, with its characteristic pentagonal plan. Designed to be first of all a work of art and then a fortress, the castle of Aosta is surrounded by a double round of crenelated walls and is gently laid on a hill, as if carried by the wind or the magic wand of an old magician. Today the castle is owned by the Region, which has provided for the restoration of what has become an evocative rural construction.
ROCCA DI BRISIGHELLA, EMILIA ROMAGNA
Just a glance to understand where we are: the Rocca Manfrediana and the Clock Tower characterize the landscape of Brisighella, a few kilometers from Faenza. Built in 1300 by the Manfredi, this castle passed from master to master, ending first entrusted to the Borgia, then to the Venetians and finally to the Papal State. The main staircase is a walk through history: from the references to the prehistoric caves of the Vena del Gesso for funeral and cult reasons, to the Roman age with the development of the mining activity of the precious lapis specularis (stone glass) until the Middle Ages and to the Renaissance, a period marked by the presence of chalky ridges.
CASTLE OF MAROSTICA, VENETO
Legend tells that Dante Alighieri has walked the majestic rooms of this fortress that overlooking the town in the province of Vicenza. To open the doors of his home to the poet was Cangrande della Scala, who took the trouble to “restore” the old building, joining the Upper Castle and the Lower Castle. The walls look like two arms that embrace the surrounding countryside, a symbol of protection of the lord towards his people. Among the many castles in Veneto, this is certainly the richest in history.
SFORZA CASTLE OF MILAN, LOMBARDY
In the list of castles to visit in Lombardy cannot be the beautiful fortress of the Sforza of Milan, which stands majestic together with the Torre del Filarete. The main purpose of the construction was the defense, but without giving up the external details, which make it sober but elegant. The different dominations suffered by the Milanese have made it a symbol of love and hate in the eyes of the Lombard people. Today it is one of the most visited Italian monuments of all time, a destination for tourists of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
CASTLE OF VERRÈS, VALLE D’AOSTA
The prestigious stage of the Verrezi Historical Carnival in which the epic of Countess Caterina of Challant, lady of one of the most beautiful medieval castles in Italy, is recollected, between history and legend. Immense and sumptuous salons in which the young Valdostan nobility loved to gather for the most pompous parties. Once a year those rooms return to light up, they are filled with costumes and fun, the hands of the clock run back in time and the castle comes back to life.
CASTLE OF ISSOGNE, VALLE D’AOSTA
The extreme North of Italy is certainly the richest area of castles and fortresses. To characterize this medieval manor is the large internal courtyard, where once the artisans’ shops and small fruit and vegetable market stalls crowded. The colorful porch is a rare example of medieval Alpine painting with scenes taken from the daily life of the late Middle Ages.
ESTENSE CASTLE, EMILIA ROMAGNA
The first stone was symbolically laid on 29 September 1385, the day of San Michele, protector of the castles, in fact. The symbol of one of the most important families in Italy has crossed all the ages, reaching almost intact up to us. In the list of famous castles certainly deserves a place on the podium, with its four towers surrounded by the moat, the red brick bricks, the elegant white banisters, the prisons and halls for games and court delight.
CASTEL COIRA, TRENTINO ALTO ADIGE
500 years of history, a loggia with marble columns and Renaissance vault, the largest armory in Europe with over 50 armors of the Lords of the Castle made to measure by the most famous artisans of the time. One of the rare examples of Gothic castles in Italy, which stands majestically on the territory of Bolzano.
ASOLO CASTLE, VENETO
There are many beautiful castles to visit in Veneto, but the fortress of Treviso is literally linked to the history of the town where it stands. Its walls are fused with those of the village of Asolo, to witness the close dependence between past and present in a timeless place. The residence of the Venetian podestàs first and then of the public administration of the town, the Venetian castle has been able to adapt itself over time, changing its vocation but not fascination.
The most beautiful castles in Italy: the magical interweaving of history and nature in the center of the beautiful country
Moving towards the center of the peninsula, we find some examples of the most beautiful medieval castles in Italy.
ROCCA CALASCIO, ABRUZZO
A well-preserved medieval fortification within the National Park of Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga, almost 1500 m high. The view fills with wonder in front of the imposing central male that dominates the four corner towers. Below, like many satellites of a majestic planet, small medieval villages appear scattered between mountains and valleys. A fairytale castle, even a film: it was chosen as a set for films such as The Name of the Rose and Ladyhawke.
CASTEL SANT’ANGELO IN ROME, LAZIO
Among the famous castles of Italy, the gold medal belongs to the famous Mausoleum of Hadrian. The walk along the Tiber along the Ponte degli Angeli accompanies the visitor to one of the cult places of the Capital. Rome has changed, the world has changed, even the functions of the castle have changed: from a funerary monument to a fortified outpost, then a prison, a Renaissance residence and a museum. But for two thousand years the Italians’ gaze continues to rest on these stunning legacies of the Roman era.
ROCCA ALBORNOZIANA OF SPOLETO, UMBRIA
In 1300, Pope Innocent VI and Egidio Albornoz, a Spanish cardinal, decided to give the town this defensive rectangular bulwark surrounded by a high wall. The Renaissance well in the internal courtyard is the memory of the regency of Lucrezia Borgia as governor of the Duchy. One of the most beautiful castles to visit in Umbria.
ROCCA MONALDESCHI OF THE CERVARA, LAZIO
Among the many castles in Lazio, this, built to counter the incursions of Federico Barbarossa, is one of the most striking, with direct views of Lake Bolsena, in the province of Viterbo. Everything is based on creativity in this very original fortress: an irregular plan and four corner towers of different styles.
PANDONE CASTLE OF VENAFRO, MOLISE
The passion for the horses of Enrico Pandone, lord of the Molise castle, stands out in every detail of the Lombard construction. Rooms, frescoes, interiors and exteriors are dedicated to the noble animal, loved by the count more than its women.
CASTLE RUSPOLI, LAZIO
A huge labyrinthine garden surrounds one of the most beautiful castles in the Viterbo area. Here the Italian garden has reached its maximum expression: a perfect geometric design in the center of which stands a large pool with fountain surrounded by four arches of balustrades.
CASTEL DELLA GUAITA, REPUBLIC OF SAN MARINO
The largest of the three fortresses that guard the city. A tower put there to “stand guard”, as the name says. The castle has been used over the centuries as a refuge for the population and prison.
BANFI CASTLE, TUSCANY
Sip a glass of wine, immersed in the marvellous view of the Tuscan hills? Yes, but from the top of a castle it’s even better. The old fortress of Poggio alle Mura was built in the fourteenth century in a strategic position: between Siena, Mount Amiata and the Maremma. Today it is the headquarters of a very important winery that took over the estate and gave it its name and brand.
CASTLE OF MALASPINA, TUSCANY
One of the most evocative medieval castles of the Tuscan territory is today a structure that hosts numerous contemporary art exhibitions. On the fortress hovers the spirit of the beautiful Bianca, a young woman from the Malaspina, who was tortured and locked up in the basement for disobeying her father, the Lord of Fosdinovo. Only legend?
The most beautiful castles in Italy: the History of the South illuminated by the sun and washed by the sea.
ARAGONESE CASTLE OF ISCHIA, CAMPANIA
Traces of history deeply engraved in one of the most beautiful fortresses in Southern Italy. The tyrant of Syracuse Hiero fell in love with the island of Campania and decided to settle here, standing on the rock its imposing residence. However, it was the Aragonese who gave the castle the appearance that we can see today, overlooking the sea, surrounded by a landscape that has no equal.
CASTEL DELL’OVO, CAMPANIA
Romanticism is at home in Naples and there isn’t a more romantic place than Campania castle that connects the mainland to the gulf. From the terrace, completely illuminated by the sun, you can admire a panorama that literally breaks your breath. The only breath perceived is that of the great history with an exclusive view of Vesuvius. The name derives from the famously legend of the egg hidden between its foundations by the Latin poet Virgilio. Great misfortunes could happen if that egg were to break. Better to visit it with a light step.
CASTEL DEL MONTE, PUGLIA
A programmed magic, a scenographic enchantment: director and leading actor Frederick II, who desired this fortress as a woman, the passion pushed him to create it and follow closely all the works. One of the most beloved Gothic castles in Italy, declared World Heritage Site. The castle has an octagonal plan, as do the towers, in a strictly geometric reciprocal appeal. The “fortress of mysteries” owes its nickname to the mystical symbolism of the number eight replicated in many parts of the structure. The Swabian emperor who was able to amaze the world had thought of everything: the position of the castle creates particular symmetries of light in the days of solstice and equinox.
SWABIAN CASTLE OF BARLETTA, PUGLIA
An eagle that claws its prey, an emblem of animal strength and intellectual acuity. On the walls of this little jewel of Southern Italy, the coat of arms of the Swabian family appears clearly. Then the weather and the invasions have transformed it almost completely, but the eagle continues to monitor its territory, alert and attentive.
THE CASTELLUCCIO OF BATTIPAGLIA, CAMPANIA
Sore note for the conservation of Italian cultural heritage: the “castelluccia”, so called by the inhabitants of the area, is unfortunately almost in ruins. The walls are still the original ones from the 7th century and a tower dating back to the 13th century. From the large windows it is possible to admire the entire Piana del Sele. A concerted show of History and Nature.
CASTLE OF BURGOS, SARDINIA
Prunisinda and Adelasia of Torres, two women who found a tragic end in the Sardinian fortress. A haunt of extraordinary legends, which scare children and fascinate adults, helping to make the manor of Sassari one of the castles that are worth visiting in Italy.
Intrigue, impossible love, blood and earth wars, reality and fantasy, fairytale atmospheres and picturesque medieval villages. Italian castles are the destination of many tourists every year, passionate or simply curious, who want to feel like kings and queens of a past that has remained intact. Here, between the walls that have seen dynasties and noble generations pass, history is felt, seen, touched.
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