Italian Castles & Fortresses

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Castel Sant'Angelo - Rome

Castel Sant'AngeloBuilt around 123 BC as a tomb for Emperor Hadrian and his family, Castel Sant'Angelo has an unusual destiny in art-historical overview of the capital. The castle's developments and transformations have slipped into one another seamlessly with almost two thousand years the fortunes and history of Rome.

From funerary monument to a fortified outpost, from dark and terrible prison in splendid Renaissance mansion that saw Michelangelo active within its walls, Castel Sant'Angelo embodied in the solemn spaces, the mighty walls, its magnificent frescoed halls, the events of the Eternal City where past and present are inextricably linked.

Passetto di BorgoWanted by the Emperor Hadrian as a tomb it was born in an outlying area of ancient Rome which served its original purpose until about 403 AD, when included in the Aurelian walls by Emperor Honorius. From this moment begins a 'second life' in the guise of castellum a stronghold advanced beyond theTiber to protect the city. Many Roman families vying for possession of it, appeared to achieve a leading position in the order of the City it became the stronghold of Senator Theophylact, Crescenzi, of Pierleoni and the Orsini pope Nicholas III who was to construct the Passetto di Borgo (right), which links the Vatican to the castle, in a physical continuity and ideal.

In 1367, the keys were handed over to Pope Urban V, in order to request the return of the Curia to Rome from exile in Avignon. From this moment on, Castel Sant'Angelo inextricably bound its fate to that of the popes, and was easily adapted as a residence to retreat to in times of danger. Thanks to its solid structure and strengthened by its reputation for elusiveness the castle was home to the Vatican Archives and the Treasury, but was also adapted to a court and prison. The fortress was the refuge of Pope Clement VII from the siege of Charles V's Landsknechte during the Sack of Rome, in which Benevenuto Cellini describes strolling the ramparts and shooting enemy soldiers whilst imprisoned there.

Bronze Statue of Archangel MichaelPope Leo X built a chapel with a fine Madonna by Raffaello da Montelupo. In 1536 Montelupo (an apprentice of Michelangelo) also created a marble statue of Saint Michael holding his sword after the 590 plague to surmount the Castle. Later Pope Paul III built a rich apartment, to ensure that in any future siege the Pope had an appropriate place to stay.

Montelupo's statue was replaced by a bronze statue (left) of the same subject, executed by the Flemish sculptor Peter Anton von Verschaffelt, in 1753. Verschaffelt's is still in place, though Montelupo's can be seen in an open court in the interior of the Castle.

Decommissioned in 1901, the castle is now a museum.

Sources: Wikipedia/Castel Sant'Angelo, Castel Sant'Angelo National Museum

The Castel Sant'Angelo appeared in Dan Brown's 2000 novel Angels and Demons. It also appeared in the 2009 movie of the same name as one of the locations where a clue that leads to the papal assassin resides.
The Castle appears in the 2009 video game Assassin's Creed and also more prominently in the game's 2010 sequel, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. In both games it is used as the official residence of Pope Alexander VI and his children, Cesare and Lucrezia. The Castel is protected by the Papal Guard as well as many Roman guard. During Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, the Castle is infiltrated by the main character, Ezio Auditore, in an attempt to rescue Caterina Sforza and again later when trying to recover one of the "Pieces of Eden". It appears again in the Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood downloadable content, The Da Vinci Disappearance, when Ezio must infiltrate the Castel to steal two paintings of Leonardo da Vinci.

Castel Caetani - Sermoneta

Castle CataeniThe castle was built by the family of Annibaldi the beginning of 1200. The manor was born more as a military fortress in a strategic point of the territory between Rome and Naples, and as a noble residence: the exterior walls are three meters thick and the whole structure is protected by a wall which rests on bedrock. Of this building are only the first male and controtorre the "boy".

The family gave Annibaldi in 1207 the territories of Sermoneta,
Bassett and San Donato, the nephew of Pope Boniface VIII, Pietro Caetani, to the tune of 140 thousand gold florins. The Caetani would do anything to make the Fortress Annibaldi a real military fort, with new buildings and five circles of walls, which, thanks to a system of drawbridges, guaranteed the ability to isolate the tower in case of attack. Under Onorato Caetani III in the mid 16th century, Sermoneta experienced the greatest moment of glory: Onorato was an active man, energetic, a real commander born, as demonstrated by participating in the Battle of Lepanto.

Interior of Castle CataneiIn 1499 Pope Alexander VI excommunicated the Caetani and confiscated all their estates (Vanozza dei Catanei was the mother of Juan, Cesare, Lucrezia and Joffre Borgia), giving them to his daughter Lucrezia. The Borgia rule, however, lasted only four years since the death of Alexander. the Caetani, after the lifting of the excommunication, were immediately reinstated in the possession of all the feuds. On their return they found the castle in Sermoneta completely overwhelmed by the architectural point of view. Under Alexander VI it had become a huge medieval fortress, which would bar access to Rome from the south, controlling both the Appian Way is the oldest street foothills: the latter, situated at the foot of the hill of Sermoneta. Starting from the eighth century had begun to replace the Appia in the same long stretch from flooded the Pontine Marshes, and then totally supplant the early Middle Ages.

The castle, which housed, among others Frederick II and in 1536 Charles V. Other guests staying in the Castle Caetani, like the popes Gregory XIII in 1576 and Sixtus V, and other eminent personalities: there are traces of them in a room of the complex that housed the inscriptions (still preserved on a wall - above right interior).

Sources: Wikipedia/Castello Caetani

Inside the Male, the main tower of the castle, is still perfectly preserved the original poster bed sir. On the walls of one of the rooms of the castle were the signatures of famous citizens hosted a visit and one of these walls is still perfectly preserved a staff, incidentally, the composer, musician Roffredo Caetani. The hall is home to the Cardinal's Madonna and Child with Saints Peter, Stephen and John the Baptist painted in 1541 by Jerome Siciolante, told The Sermoneta.
It is said that the fortress still hovers the spirit of a child, who died violently in the basement of the castle, some think it is the prince's portrait in a painting of the Cardinal present in the room.

Castel Sforzesco - Milan

Castle SforzaAlong with the Cathedral, Milan's most famous and much beloved monument - the Sforza Castle is linked to the vicissitudes and dramatic events that the city has been experiencing over the past centuries. For many years, in fact, it has represented a symbol of the power in the hands of the Dukes, as well as of the foreign dominators. Only at the beginning of the 20th century the Castle assumed its distinctive role, becoming a place of culture, which hosted numerous Lombard art collections. The Castle was named after Francesco Sforza, who transformed it into a ducal residence in 1450. But its origins date back to the second half of the 14th century, at the time of Galeazzo II Visconti.


Francesco Sforza first defended Milan and the Ambrosian Republic against the Venetian, then took advantage of the situation and took power on March 25 1450, always supported by his wife Bianca Maria Visconti, a great feminine figure in the vicissitudes of the 15th century.

Cylindrical Towers - Castle SforzaFrancesco soon decided to rebuild the castle with the aim of making it a symbol of the city's beauty and defending Milan against possible external enemies. He called in numerous people to work on this project. Among them are military engineers Jacopo da Cortona, Giovanni da Milano and Marcoleone da Nogarolo. In 1452 the Florentine architect Antonio Averulino, known as 'Il Filarete' was entrusted with the building of a high central entrance tower. Although the Castle should appear as a luxury residence, which should have nothing to do with the old fortress built by Filippo Maria Visconti, the Filarete was soon dismissed and the military architect Bartolomeo Gadio was called in to oversee the building. The Castello di Porta Giovia was provided with massive cylindrical towers covered with bosses and with articulated structures: the Ghirlanda is a quadrangular defensive wall over three meters thick, which led to the town walls and surrounded the Rochetta and the Corte Ducale. The Ghirlanda, which already existed at the time of the Visconti, had been enlarged and strengthened in the Sforza age. It is provided with two circular towers (right) built in its corners and a covered road, part of which still exists.

To complete the building Francesco Sforza even asked the Pope permission to demolish an old church (the 'Chiesa del Carmine'), which stood in the area where the Castle was being built. In 1452, only the castellan Foschino degli Attendoli, who lived in one of the cylindrical towers, archers and some unhappy prisoners in the undergrounds of the towers continued to stay in the fortress. In those years, a wall was built around the park ('barcho'), abundant with wild game captured and taken there from the woods around Varese, the Seprio and the lake Como. Orchards and cereal cultivations stood next to the hunting area of the park. Francesco and Bianca Maria didn't move to the Castle. In Milan, they preferred to live in the old Arengo Palace, next to the Cathedral.


Rondanini Pieta by MichelangeloThe best known of the current civic museums is the Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco, with an art collection which includesMichelangelo's last sculpture, the Rondanini Pieta,Andrea Mantegna'sTrivulzio Madonna andLeonardo da Vinci'sCodex Trivulzianus manuscript .
The Castle complex also includes The Museum of Ancient Art, The Furniture Museum, The Museum of Musical Instruments and the Applied Arts Collection, The Egyptian and Prehistoric sections of the Archaeological Museum and the Achille Bertarelli Print Collection.

Sources: Wikipedia/Castle Sforza, Castello Sforzesco Official Website


Castel Estense


Castle EstenseIn 1264,Obizzo d'Este prevailed over the rival Salinguerra family of Ghibelline allegiance and for over three centuries the political scene in the city and its territory was dominated by the House of Este.

This political and administrative continuity made the splendour of Ferrara and the Estense court grow until it occupied a recognised space among the most prestigious European courts. In the first part of their lordship, in a little over a hundred and fifty years, Ferrara underwent surprising urban development and saw its own city walls grow by up to four times in length, vast areas of the Po Delta reclaimed and its art and culture enjoy periods of great esteem and resonance.

Under Nicolo II d'Este Italian Castles & Fortresses - THE  BORGIAS   wikithe family's power was definitively confirmed. The people of Ferrara worn out by famine rose against their governors in 1385 in a rebellion so bloody that Nicolò, feeling himself to be in danger, ordered the construction of the great Castello di San Michele (see above Castel Sant'Angelo) to the design of Bartolino da Novara. This became the symbol of a despotic power that dominated a city it had at last subdued, a sign of the house of Este's great political and military strength that removed any ambition competing Ferrarese families might have with regard to control of the city. After Nicolò II, his brother Alberto held power for a few years; he governed with a favourable eye to the arts and other studies. In fact, it is to him that the founding of the University of Ferrara in 1391 is owed. Alberto's son, Nicolo III (above right), was endowed with great political instinct. His talent gave stability to the state enabling it to make headway within the setting of Italian affairs with increasing success from this moment on. Nicolò was succeeded by his sons Leonello,Borso and Ercole I in that order.

Borso's BibleLeonello, a prince enlightened in politics, refined and an art lover, started up a distinguished group of humanists whose names include maestro Guarino da Verona, Angelo Decembrio and Leon Battista Alberti. Borso, a man of action, an able soldier, ambitious and a shrewd statesman, earned the title of Duke for his family in 1471. He never stopped working to sustain the economy above all through land reclamation work on the Ferrarese territory, which was for the most part swampy and unproductive. He supported the University and among his commitments in the field of arts are the realisation of the famous pictorial cycle of the months in the Delizia di Schifanoia and that of the extraordinary illuminated codex known as Borso's Bible (left).

Ercole I reigned from 1471 to 1505 after a hard-fought battle with his nephew Nicolò, son of Leonello, who tried to seize power leading a revolt into the city of Ferrara in 1476, causing Eleonora of Aragon, Ercole's wife to hurriedly take refuge along with her children in the Castello di San Michele. The duke was then able to suppress the revolt but not without a savage bloodbath. During Ercole's dukedom a lot of new and important decoration was done, both on the inside and the outside, but more than anything else significant extensions and changes were made along the side that runs from the old palace to the rooms near the Torre dei Leoni. It was his far-sightedness which gave us the vast extension of the city walls, the so-called Addizione Erculea, which, commissioned to the great architect Biagio Rossetti, radically changed the appearance of the city. Ercole was succeeded by his son Alfonso I who had at his side during his first marriage Anna Sforza and in his second Lucrezia Borgia, the daughter of Pope Alexander VI.



Ducal Kitchens - Castello EstenseErcole died in 1505 and was succeeded by his son Alfonso I who continued the renovation work on the castle-palace undertaken by his father and supported by the court architect Biagio Rossetti. Besides modernising the apartment that had belonged to the Duchess Eleonora for his wives, firstly Anna Sforza and then Lucrezia Borgia, the duke built other wings and rooms in the castle to house a grocery store and a goldsmith's workshop and also an armoury (various rooms for housing arms and munitions). This was one of his great passions; he was an expert in the design and casting of cannons. Alfonso completed the great Ducal Kitchens (left), built on the foundations of the demolished Porta del Leone and the East Gatehouse below the Giardino degli Aranci and more than anything else he modernised and extended for himself the apartment-study that had belonged to his father on the Via Coperta. And so that small but precious residential quarter came into being. It consisted of a sequence of rooms, known as the Golden Study or Alabaster Study and into it flowed an extremely important collection of the artistic talents of the day. A real decorative blueprint created with the help of the greatest artists of that time, from Ferrara and elsewhere, such as for example Titian, the Dossi brothers, Antonio Lombardi, Raffaello Sanzio *Raphael", Giovanni Bellini and others.


Ercole II d'EsteErcole II (right), the son of Alfonso I and Lucrezia Borgia, continued the work of improving the castle, which bore the strong signs of his father, with refinement and sensibility. He had several rooms decorated with paintings and frescoes, both to complete the decorative cycles set out by Alfonso and also to his own original ideas. The chief artists involved were Tommaso da Carpi, Battista Dossi, Tommaso da Treviso,il Garofalo, Camillo Filippi and Girolamo da Carpi. In particular, Ercole II turned his attention to sectors of the building dedicatedCeiling of The Government Room - Castello Estense to a new high-ranking residential and representative function, the rooms of the south wing, in particular the Salone del Governo (Government Room - below) and the apartment of Santa Caterina Tower, which became the object of a decorative cycle which was hinged on the so-called Camera della Pazienza with excellent works by Camillo Filippi and Girolamo da Carpi. In 1554, a big fire caused serious damage to the more than half of the castle, especially the top floors from the Marchesana Tower to the Torre dei Leoni and Santa Caterina Tower. The event induced the duke and his court architect to intervene not only to simply rebuild the upper floors and the lost or damaged roofs but also to make changes to the architectural appearance of the castle. So, given that the rooms of the piano nobile were already turned over to residential use, he went ahead with a complete redesign of the building's exterior and changed its style into something we may consider to be very close to the monument's current appearance.


Cammerino of the BacchanaliaThe work that revolutionized the appearance of the monument was completed in a respectable manner, after Girolamo's sudden death, by Alberto Schiatti, who handled the repairs needed after the disastrous earthquake that struck Ferrara and its castle in 1570. In the meantime
Alfonso II became duke. Both the fire and the earthquake left a lot to be sorted out in the apartments on the piano nobile. The new owner, son of Ercole and the duchess Renée of France, got to work immediately on the enormous task of redecorating. The many large rooms, along with those of the new second floor destined not to become living quarters but mostly to accommodate the increasingly complex administrative apparatus of the territory, were extensively renovated (of note the works in the Camerini Dorati [Golden Study - The Camerino of the Bacchanalia - above right] and in the Sala del Governo [Government Room]) . Everywhere the damage done due to the disasters or to other events had meant restoration of some degree was necessary.

Ducal Chapel, Castello EstenseWith the intention of giving prestige to the Estense residence in the eyes of the duke, the court and the world, Alfonso decided to call upon the architect Pirro Ligorio, who had proved his worth to the family working on the Villa d'Este at Tivoli near Rome for Cardinal Ippolito. Thanks to a specific high-level plan concerning decoration and content, the result of the artistic enrichment was orderly and distinguished. At that time painters such as Girolamo Bonaccioli, Ludovico Settevecchi, Leonardo da Brescia and Sebastiano Filippi, known as Bastianino worked in the castle. Pictures and sculptures were purchased for the Antiquarium; the Apartments, the Studies and the Galleries were reorganised; the Appartmento dello Specchio (Mirror Apartment) was frescoed; the Cappella Ducale (Ducal Chapel - right) was decorated and the courtyard was given a Renaissance decorative appearance.

Sources: Castello Estense Official Website/Castle Estense Wilipedia


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