A Country’s architecture is a testimony of its history. The truth of this simple statement is particularly evident in Italy, probably more than elsewhere, since each civilisation and political upheaval that has taken place in our beautiful peninsula over the last two millennia has created layers upon layers of physical traces that we can still see, touch and, in a few cases, inhabit. On this occasion, we will not focus on that most popular era of civilisation, the Roman Empire, that has created some of the best known Italian landmarks, but rather on the Middle-Ages and the Renaissance, that have given us some of the most beautiful castles in Italy. The whole Country is dotted with impressive, ancient castles that range from graceful mansions to imposing fortresses. These buildings stand as monuments to centuries of conquests and power, as the land was conquered by a number of civilisations, from the Spanish to the Turkish, from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the French one. The vast majority of castles in Italy can be visited and some of them double as corporate event locations. Whatever your reason for visiting, if you are lucky enough to spend time in one of these magnificent constructions, don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn about its fascinating history and, if you can, visit the nearby town or village: you will experience the local culture and traditions at their best.
Hidden treasures: visit the most beautiful castles in Italy
1. Sammezzano Castle
The current outlook of this impressive manor is the result of an intense restoration work commissioned in the XIX century by the owner Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona, but several sources mention the existence some sort of settlement and fortress in this part of Tuscany since the early Middle-Ages. What we see today is a unique blend of the original architectural style and Ferdinando’s personal fascination with the moorish style. This specific architectural style is common in the southern regions of the Country, that were subjected to the influence of the Ottoman empire, but are extremely rare in the central and northern regions. The unique character of this castle is the specific product of its owner’s fascination with the mysterious Orient – a fascination shared by many of his contemporaries, that has left remarkable traces in Western European art and literature, with the works of Moreau, Edgar Allan Poe and Huysmans. Among the most notable features of this castle are the complex ceramic mosaics, that create vivid and intricate floral patterns, and the peculiar composition of its exterior, that has a solar and a lunar facade.
2. Rocca Calascio
This fortress is located in one of the most beautiful natural parks in Italy, the Gran Sasso National Park. It was built on the Laga Monuntain Range for defensive purposes and, now that the time of conquering castles in Italy has passed, its unique and impervious location has not so much the effect of deterring visitors as that of attracting them. This majestic white stone building is a classical example of a medieval fortress perched higher up on the side of a mountain than the village that it was intended to protect and command. You might not have visited Rocca Calascio, but if you are familiar with iconic movies such as Ladyhawkeand The Name of The Rose, you have certainly seen it. More recently, the castle was used again as a location for the movie The American, starring George Clooney. Rocca Calascio is the archetypical medieval castle, presenting the perfect structure that many castles in Italy replicated during that period. The central building was probably part of a pre-existing settlement and it was surrounded by crenellated battlements with four corner towers. This inaccessible fortress can only be entered by a narrow passage on the eastern wall, which is located approximately 15 feet higher than ground level and it used to require a drawbridge, which has been replaced by a fixed ramp.
3. Sirmione Scaligero Castle
This is one of the best kept and most impressive castles in Italy and it commands a spectacular view of Lake Garda. It can only be accessed from the very heart of the town of Sirmione and it was designed to make good use of its peculiar position. Since the castle is surrounded by the lake, it was easier to defend it, particularly with the help of the Scaligeri fleet that was docked here. The castle has three massive towers with crenellated battlements, surrounding a central keep and the dungeons underneath. The castle as we know it dates back to the XIII century and it was probably built over the remains of a roman fortification, as is the case for many buildings of that period.
Visiting this castle will provide everything you might possibly want from such an experience: the thrill and fascination of the authentic medieval vibe, a rich and complex history and a magnificent architecture that has been kept in perfect condition. It even comes with its very own tragic legend. As the local folklore has it, once upon a time, the young and noble Ebengard lived in the castle and so did his beloved Arice. On a stormy night, a wandering knight from Veneto came knocking for sheltered and he was welcomed in. Smitten by the beauty of young Arice, the ungrateful guest tried to force access to her room. Upon seeing him, she began to scream and the knight stabbed her. Ebengard, having heard the screams came running and killed the intruder, but spent the rest of his life grieving over his lost love. To this day, his ghost is said to roam the castle searching for the beautiful Arice.
4. Castello della Lucertola (Lizard Castle)
This unusually named fortress is located near the village of Apericale, in the region of Liguria, and it dates back to the X Century. The original structure comprised two towers, but, as is often the case with Italian settlements, the surrounding village changed and expanded and one of the towers ended up being converted into the local church’s steeple. The castle as we see it today is the product of centuries of changes, expansions and amendments by successive owners, which have been mostly interested in converting what was originally a mansion into a fortification. The castle was destroyed in the XVI century, then reconstructed and ultimately turned back into a private residence in the early XIX Century, by Stefano Cassini. The external walls are the only surviving element of the old building. The castle fell into a state of abandonment and disrepair through most of the XX century, but then it was luckily restored and refurbished and it is currently used by the local administration for events, exhibitions and conventions, thus becoming a vital part of the province’s cultural life.
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